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The modern marketing agency is, somewhat ironically, struggling to deliver what its target market wants. It means the whole industry is in a state of massive flux right now. But what lessons can we take from the big boys when bringing together marketing strategies for small businesses?

 Big Brands are In-Housing Marketing Resource

For a few years, companies such as Hilton, Citi and Unilever have been experimenting with their approach to marketing; going from almost-completely agency-outsourced models, to ‘in-housing’ to so-called ‘blended’ models. And yet, no one solution appears to have won out as yet. Even as recently as this week, Vodafone UK’s Brand and Marketing Director, Maria Koutsoudakis was parading her company’s latest iteration of the combined approach as generating “phenomenal results”… all the while admitting that that “some elements of digital in-housing are working better than others at this early stage” and asking “where does the creative come in?… we’re working our way through that.” 

 Meanwhile, the Traditional CMO is Becoming an Endangered Species

At the same time, the role of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) / Marketing Director / Head of Marketing… whatever you want to call it… has also undergone huge change. It seems like every week we’re hearing how the average tenure of the CMO is declining and how companies like McDonalds, Coca Cola and Johnson & Johnson are getting rid of the role.


It’s Clear a Compromise is Required… But What?

The result? An understanding that some interplay between the external and the in-house is required; after all the pace of technological change (not to mention societal change) means it’s practically impossible for a company of any size to keep track of all the marketing options available while struggling to implement whatever the ‘new black’ was last month. 

Meanwhile, the need for an in-house brand advocate remains. This is someone who really understands the company’s values and beliefs intimately; someone whose overall responsibility is for “combining the powers of creativity with the big idea and bold storytelling”.

 My Own Experience:

This industry-wide introspection is long overdue.

As someone who’s worked in Marketing / PR / Advertising for 15 years across a range of in-house and agency (both big and small) set-ups, I’ve seen all the arguments (and they are argumentative) from both sides.

I’ve heard how my employer’s agencies are slow and unresponsive, how they present proposals that simply lack understanding of our business’ core products and values, and how their reports are incomprehensible and – we suspect – untrustworthy. 

I’ve also heard how my agency’s clients are terrible at briefing, how their capricious and ill-informed requests mean we are forced to produce bad work to service their whims and how they ignore vast quantities of important data, only to fascinate over one, often flawed metric.

It’s tiring for both parties. And yet for so long we’ve persisted with it because we thought there was no other way. The shape-shifting going on at the top is a response to that but – as we’ve seen – even the multi-nationals still haven’t landed on a viable solution. 

 Marketing Options for Small Companies

So, if you’re reading all of this as the owner or a marketer at a small-to-medium-sized business and wondering what hope there is for you… well, there are options.

Probably, your preferred route would be to bring an experienced CMO – perhaps to work with your existing team of less-experienced but enthusiastic young marketers – in house. But the truth is that that will be expensive (at the time of publication the average salary of a CMO in the UK is £117k) and relies on you being able to evaluate how good that person / those people actually are. Not an easy job if Marketing isn’t your core skill.

Obviously, a large all-purpose agency is out of your reach (and wouldn’t want your 15k –  annual marketing budget anyway – sorry to burst your bubble). So you could go the route of a smaller, more niche local agency. And while many of them are great – truly great – at what they specialize in, the nature of a small agency is that they need to specialize. You simply cannot have a company with 10 – 20 staff members who can have experience at doing offline, online, experiential, event (and any of the other 36 and counting) types of marketing. So what does that mean? If you approach a PR Agency to help you with your marketing, they’ll suggest PR as a great way to help. Approach a social agency? Well, what do you think will happen? To a hammer, every problem looks like a nail and all that.

So what about a Consultant? Well, they’re a brilliant resource – and believe me, I’ve used Business Consultants a lot since launching my company – but their job is not to actually deliver your marketing for you. Their job is to listen, recommend tactics and then check back a few months down the line to see what you’ve done. And you’ve probably got enough to do with just running your company, I’m guessing, rather than having to implement marketing strategies on your own?


Another way. X-CMO – Big Brand Marketing Strategy for Ambitious SMEs

Having been operating as Noisy Marketing for a year and a half, this company changed its name at the start of 2020 to X-CMO in response to all of the above.

Already delivering tactical marketing support to SMEs through outsourcing to high-quality UK freelancers, time and again the feedback I got from my best clients was that the value I brought to their marketing was being the centre-point for all their activity; the person who could co-ordinate several projects simultaneously and help digest the results into a format they – the business owners – could understand quickly and easily. I was – as they saw it – the person who was adding a layer of strategy to what had previously been a diverse collection of activities. In fact, some had already started introducing me to others as their External Marketing guy – hence stumbling upon the name.

Furthermore, while pitching to prospective clients, what consistently appealed to them about my presentations was not the range of tactics I was able to suggest, nor even the strategic approach to linking them up. It was my ability to quickly understand what they stood for and turn that into a message that resonated. Unlike others, spurred on by my love of Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, I was transforming the conversation from what they do to why they do it. And that was making an impression.

The idea of an X-CMO – an External Chief Marketing Officer – was born. The promise? As your X-CMO I will be an extension of your team; not simply providing a service as if an outsider but helping you to understand what makes your company great from within. Developing your Value Proposition.

Having crafted that, I’ll be responsible for designing and delivering a considered, consistent and compelling marketing strategy that embodies that Value Proposition. One that can feed through every part of your marketing activity. One so clear and memorable that it can be remembered and represented by all stakeholders and across all media. So that what your website says about you is consistent with how your staff greet customers at your welcome desk (and how they talk about your company to each other around the proverbial water-cooler); is consistent with how your current customers talk about you to anyone who will listen and what prospective buyers are searching for.

In this way, I can bring the experience I’ve learnt from 15 years working on global brands to smaller clients. Meanwhile, because I’m not an agency with staff and a specific set of expertise, I can recommend the tactics you need to get your message out, rather than simply the tactics that suit me.

Interested? Why not get in touch…



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