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As part of The Drum's Agencies4Growth Festival, we asked some of the brightest minds in marketing why agencies matter today. Here, Emily Somers, a strategic advisor and former chief marketing officer of Domino's, explains why marketers should seek to forge closer ties with their agencies – especially in times like these.

Now is not the time for businesses to be cautious and risk averse; to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. Now is the time to rethink their business model; find different ways to reach, engage and stay relevant to their customers.

Innovation is key to survival in this new world we find ourselves in.

Having sat on both client and agency side I can confidently say that these kinds of challenges are what agencies, performing at their best, are set up to help solve.

As a client, you need to invite your agency right into your organisation. Bringing agency thinking into the client world can help unlock creative thinking and innovation; It enables agency talent to be both an extension of their client’s team and an extension of their client’s customer. Half in the business, and half out in the world.

Under these conditions their strengths can play perfectly to the current environment.

Objectivity and Perspective

Through their portfolio of clients, agency folk are exposed to a variety of markets and industries that require different strategies and solutions. They need to pivot from one type of challenge to the next, constantly learning on the job.

This helps them remain objective, avoid groupthink, and keep marketers honest about their product and brand

It can also be of huge benefit to problem solving in an ‘out of the box’ way and can help the upskilling of your teams.


Innovation comes from pushing creativity over conformity. Creativity that spans many dimensions, from how we think, to the way we work, to what we make – freeing creativity to make change that creates growth.

The best agencies are filled with curious and creative talent, people who are motivated by innovating, making something new, populating culture.

Agency thinking within a business can help marketers try new things, approach challenges differently, blow things up and stop focussing on what has worked in the past. From this, new ideas and approaches can blossom. 

Provocation and challenge

If invited to do so, agencies can constantly challenge their clients to figure out the questions they should be asking but aren't.

The best, most creative agencies will provoke and push to go further with creative ideas than you would have thought possible and it is this provocation that leads to bold and brave work which creates brand fame.

They can offer fresh perspective and ideas that you and your team may not see when you are so close to a project.

Conscience of your customer

Now more than ever, it is imperative for brands to understand and reflect the populations they serve and ultimately seek to weave their brand into the mood of the nation.

Agencies are more able to offer a thorough and considered perspective on ideas and concepts and how they will land with your customers. They can take all the data and research produced internally and view it in a different light, with the customer and the end creative product in mind and come up with fresh insight to capture the hearts and minds of your audience.

A great example of this working at its best, and one which I have first-hand knowledge of, is the relationship McDonald’s has with its agency of 30 years, Leo Burnett. It is grounded in an understanding of where the brand stands within the Great British psyche and has been evidenced by its ability to reinvent creativity for McDonald’s time and time again. It helps the business see the brand’s relationship with its customers afresh.

This is a huge part of why McDonald’s, a very American company, has found its place firmly at the heart of British society.

Agencies are very often under-utilised, which leads to mediocrity. However, I do believe most agencies have the ability to be so much more valuable, under the right circumstances.

A marketer’s challenge is to foster closer relationships with their agencies. Let them in; give permission to provoke and challenge; invite them to help innovate and problem solve; get both yourself and your agency out of their comfort zone. If you do this, you will see them at their best. And an agency at their best is what marketers need right now, to help navigate the phenomenal change going on around us.