Don’t ditch the AOR role—reimagine it

Content marketing has earned an increasing share of budgets—and a bigger seat at the table.

BY James Meyers
Founder, President and CEO, Imagination

Agency of record. AOR. This phrase and acronym conjure up images of an age when advertising was the dominant way to win customers and ad agencies had the creative chops, know-how and media relationships to command exclusive client-agency relationships.

Today, that traditional agency of record (AOR) model has lost much of its relevance. Brands often move away from the one-stop-shop concept and pull as needed from a roster of agencies with particular areas of expertise: paid advertising, direct marketing, digital, social, public relations and, of course, content marketing. Among the heavy hitters who have made this move in the past couple of years are PepsiCo, Best Buy and Frito Lay. The latter even called the AOR model “outdated.”

It’s a change in how marketers think, but is it a change for the better? I ask because I know from experience that it’s hard to run an integrated campaign if someone isn’t coordinating all the moving parts. Maybe instead of simply ditching the AOR role, we need to reimagine it, thinking of it less as a do-everything agency and more as the leader of a team.

And no matter who serves as that leader, content marketing agencies need a prominent seat at the table. Content marketing agencies have a core capability of producing ongoing and highly creative programs that closely support the client’s business objectives and are supported by the agency’s strategic, analytic and creative capabilities. A well-rounded content marketing agency brings all of these skills to the table and makes sure that all aspects of the brand’s marketing program are fully integrated into the perfect voice and tone, even if other agencies are involved.

"Content marketing is increasingly gaining the upper hand in terms of marketing influence with customers and, as a result, claiming a larger portion of marketing budgets."

James Meyers
Founder, President and CEO, Imagination

Lead with content

Content marketing is increasingly gaining the upper hand in terms of marketing influence with customers and, as a result, claiming a larger portion of marketing budgets. For example, B2B marketers report devoting an average of nearly a third of their budgets to content—with intentions to increase that slice in the coming year.

Content marketing is a different sort of beast than advertising and other more traditional marketing tactics, too. When done right, content programs succeed by inspiring, informing, educating and tapping into an audience’s identity. Too often, traditional agencies have yet to fully shift their thinking away from “selling” and pushing product benefits toward creating meaningful—and memorable—brand interactions and experiences.

This deep understanding of audiences and how to engage them sparks the kind of creative thinking that makes content marketing effective. It also makes the case for content teams collaborating to lead content-driven campaigns, working together smoothly and effectively with other agencies and internal teams to support the brand and business results. Ideally, content marketing is involved in all aspects of any program, from strategy and ideation to distribution and metrics, to ensure optimal results.

Put the pieces together

Our own experience at Imagination underscores the benefits of this approach.

For instance, one of our financial services clients launched a multimillion-dollar campaign for one of its lines of business with a robust content hub at its core. Content represented a significant part of the campaign budget and was one of the main drivers of the digital experience and fulfillment of campaign objectives.

We were responsible for all aspects of the content hub—strategy, creation, awareness and measurement. The campaign also included traditional advertising, PR and in-branch interactions, all of which were handled either by internal teams or by other external agency partners. But because the content hub was so critical to the overall success of the campaign, the client made our role clear to the other teams and agencies involved: Be sure to coordinate everything you do with Imagination. The client found that in this case, having us in that lead role not only streamlined the workflow, but also prevented misunderstandings that could hamper results.

Marketing gets messy these days as everyone jockeys for position, if not bigger pieces of fragmented budgets. Ultimately, though, the players on any marketing roster need sound input and leadership from the world of content marketing—someone to ensure all aspects of strategy and execution are proceeding in a cohesive way.

published: August 22, 2017