Hybrid partnerships are the only answer to 'broken' agency models

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If we are to change the 'broken' agency model, hybrid partnerships may be a great place to start.

A hybrid partnership brings down any and every wall between client and agency, by fostering a collaboration between the brand and the agency's team. This means many tasks traditionally fulfilled by the brand are discussed and executed by the agency, bringing forth a much more organic collaboration between you and your client.

There are a number of benefits to hybrid teams and client partnerships, and we're barely scratching the surface here. To learn more about the topic, we reached out to Matt Brown, Commercial Director, UK and MD, US at SYZYGY.


Stop whinging about broken agency models. Create trust, transparency and better results with a hybrid partnership

The broken agency model is one of the most hackneyed industry topics, but we’re still talking about it. Why? Because no matter how much people talk, changes still aren’t working. 

They’re not working for clients, who have taken increasingly to in-housing tasks as a result.

That means things aren't working for agencies either, seeing their client bases slipping away. 

Neither end of the spectrum - inhouse or ‘old’ agency has worked. It’s time for a new hybrid approach.

A hybrid client relationship removes any walls between client and agency. Our “hybrid” within SYZYGY means the agency fulfils many of the roles traditionally housed on the brand side. These functions become embedded into client operations, while collaborating with additional agency colleagues to bring fresh thinking into the role. This adaptability is harder to achieve with a fixed set of full-time ‘dedicated team’ employees.

Our work with PayPal is a case in point. We developed a marketing framework project laying out how the client could optimise spend, connect channel activity, and create a process which allowed all parties to learn continuously. Taking in customer experience, global campaign and KPI mapping, the resulting framework acts as a central focus of strategy and investment. All of its agencies use it as a roadmap to activate channel-specific work rather than a series of separate briefs. 

This is a strong foundation for hybrid, as the client is confident that each agency is totally clear on objectives and needs, and can activate on its behalf.

Closer to the client  

There are numerous benefits to hybrid partnerships. First, closer collaboration and stronger relationships. If in-house and agency teams are sitting side by side, or have an ‘always-open’ approach keeping them connected, it will go a long way to tearing down silos that beset traditional relationships. Not least of these is the agency roster, which – while lauded in some quarters as the best way to bring experts from different disciplines together – tends to pit one outfit against another in a constant bid for attention and acclaim, and fees.

Specialist deployment

Closely linked to this is the ability to tap into specialist skills within a hybrid approach. When brand teams alone drive strategy they can become bogged down with internal process, not to mention constrained thinking that saps innovation. Hybrid draws on fresh agency ideas, keen market analysis, and fearless horizon scanning that offers multiple possible strategies. It’s essentially the agency acting as the brand. 

This is a bold move, but it also means results are generated much more quickly without volumes of back-and-forth and approvals. For example, we act as PayPal’s performance marketing function in countries where there is no dedicated team. We are given a budget and a focus, and we can activate a plan and deliver quickly with minimum fuss. This lack of barriers and delays also means a much faster response to customer needs – at a time when this kind of flexibility is more necessary than ever.

Bring original ideas to market at speed

Placing an agency team at the heart of a business in a hybrid operation fosters a better understanding of present problems. This means more flexible thinking and an agile, swifter response to creating and delivering solutions, suited to satisfying customer demand. This is more critical now than ever, as companies and consumers alike get to grips with a fast-changing and unpredictable world.

The ideas themselves are faster and more fulsome. Working to a hybrid model delivers a level of fluidity and flexibility in concept development, activation across a range of channels and markets, and between agencies. The approach allows brands to bring original ideas to market at speed without having to recruit talent possessing the specific required skillset. It also largely removes inter-agency tussles for briefs. Instead, everyone is pulling in one direction.

Control and trust

Brands can manage investment levels at optimal rates of return. Agency involvement in strategy and senior-level decision-making frees up in-house experts so they can be deployed on value-adding tasks. This also reduces the need to funnel budget into expensive full-time hires for specialist skills.

Hybrid models boost brand control, campaign flexibility, and engender trust. It may seem wishful thinking that all of these benefits can be realised. However, brands retain decision-making powers; selected channels can be brought in-house over time, reducing the risks associated with pulling the plug on agencies in a single stroke. Transparency is baked into the process, naturally leading to greater openness in the relationship. There are reasons why in-housing was gaining pace ahead of the pandemic. Agencies need to be honest about those; transparency and effectiveness were two of the biggest factors.

Of course, brands must still ensure external agency partners are culturally aligned, especially at a time when teams are being embedded virtually more often. This is not a change that happens overnight. It takes work, on both sides. But ultimately, the brand benefits from better results. The agency builds a strong relationship with a client in the long term. And in the end, customers benefit from better brand communication.

This is the SYZYGY way to do hybrid partnerships, bringing pace, delivery and transparency. We believe that hybrid models are likely to be the way of the future – if not the lifeblood of the entire agency sector. Transparency and trust are fundamental to good client relationships, and the hallmarks of hybrid. It gets the agency closer to the brand, while keeping the agencies working to their strengths.

Crucially, a hybrid approach throws the focus squarely on the needs of the end customer rather than commercial factors alone. Hybrid, offering the ultimate one-team partnership, is already here and it’s delivering. It’s also saving money - which is the root of all agency/client instabilities. The benefits are too good for this strategy not to become more widespread or lead to sustainable success. Brands need to grow and innovate; agencies need to increase their resilience by building lasting relationships. 

Hybrid partnerships are the only way forward.

Matt Brown is the Commercial Director, UK and MD, US at SYZYGY. Header image:


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