New research reveals how what businesses need from marketing agencies is changing


23 Nov 2023

Emma Pendleton

12 minutes


New research reveals how what businesses need from marketing agencies is changing – and most agencies aren’t changing with them.

What qualities should clients look for in a marketing agency? Specialist sector knowledge? An integrated approach? Some good old-fashioned chemistry?

Top of the list of what marketers are looking for, according to our survey of senior marketing leaders, is innovation. No worries there: it’s the bread and butter of creative agencies, right? But it seems that sourcing an agency that goes beyond the role of creative service provider is no easy task.

More than 70% of senior marketers believe it’s hard to find a creative agency that acts like a partner rather than simply a producer, we found in a survey of 100 marketing leaders.

Our research, conducted by Censuswide, paints a picture of a market that values the creative, focused and responsive approach that external agency teams bring to projects – but where a lack of understanding of clients’ business remains a frustration.

“It’s been a turbulent few years for businesses, and it stands to reason that budgets, objectives, and needs have changed with the global market,” says Carole Osborne, Founder of Borne. “We’ve recently repositioned the agency, and in that process, we wanted to do some research into what businesses needs really are today: not what we think they need, not what they’ve needed in the past, but what they need today. So that we could ensure our services reflected their real-life needs.” 

And here, we’re sharing the results.  


Marketing leaders’ needs


Working with trusted partners who really understand the goals of their clients is key to overcoming the challenges facing marketing professionals in the next year. The biggest challenges marketing leaders anticipate for 2024 are:

  1. Staying ahead of industry (43%)
  2. Changing consumer behaviour (32%)
  3. Global financial instability (31%)
  4. Compressed budget (25%)
  5. Compressed timelines (19%)

The capability of internal teams is highlighted as the most significant problem by 1 in 7 marketing leaders, while 1 in 8 of those questioned suggested that measuring impact is their prime concern.

Collaborating with an independent agency that brings expertise and insight to support a brief’s success can help to take the pressure off, and reflectively, almost all (96%) of the marketing leaders confirm they have brought in external help.

But drilling down to specific reasons for doing so reveals the main objective for marketing leaders – to bring something new to the table. An agency that’s agile enough to deliver results at speed is an equally important goal:

  1. Access fresh and innovative creative ideas (45%) / To deliver faster results (45%)
  2. Bring in skills beyond my team’s capabilities (43%)
  3. Access more insightful (and effective) consumer messaging (42%)
  4. Access sector specialist knowledge (39%)

As you might expect, innovation and creative thinking are seen as the most important attributes when evaluating creative/advertising agencies, with a lack of these things noted as one of the biggest frustrations. 


It’s difficult to find an agency that offers an experienced team, guaranteed to be on your account, and a level of creative talent with real-world thinking that’s required to deliver really impactful results – but something I hope we have achieved at Borne, with our global agency talent, but independent agency model.

Carole Osborne Founder

“This really reflects what we’ve heard from our community and clients too: there is a frustration with a lack of access to experience,” says Carole. “So often, clients are put with junior teams, or their agency team doesn’t have the big-picture, business-minded thinking they need to deliver on their creative vision. 

“It’s difficult to find an agency that offers an experienced team, guaranteed to be on your account, and a level of creative talent with real-world thinking that’s required to deliver really impactful results – but something I hope we have achieved at Borne, with our global agency talent, but independent agency model.”

Agency-client relationship


The importance of relationships is a recurring theme. Almost one third of senior marketers regard poor communication as the biggest barrier in their relationship with agencies – and 1 in 4 confirm that ego is an irritation, too.

“Overcoming these obstacles to forge rewarding, successful partnerships shouldn’t be seen as a challenge in itself,” reflects Holly Bamford, Head of Client Services. So why the challenge?

It’s not a question of client confidence – only 14% of marketers surveyed said their biggest frustration with their creative/ad agency is that they don’t trust them. But agencies that don’t understand the needs of the audience well enough, or that don’t dedicate enough focus or time to the client’s business and the problems it needs to solve are unlikely to deliver long-term value.

“Although they’ll never say it out loud, some agencies are more interested in their own growth and success than in truly serving their clients,” suggests Holly. 

“They may not consciously recognise this themselves. But in pushing clients towards unnecessary reinvention, constantly chasing the biggest clients and huge budgets, and neglecting the specific needs and realities of the companies they serve, their deeds belie their flowery words.”


Bottom line impact


This ability to put client needs first, opposed to the agency’s, is what stands creative partners apart. “If you’re asking a client for £100K to make a film, you’re asking them to not hire a pretty decent marketing manager for the next two years,” Chris, Head of Strategy, explains. “So the film that you make for £100K needs to do more for their business than a full-time person for two years will.” 

One third of senior marketers underline the importance of value.

  1. Creativity and innovation (40%)
  2. Cost-effectiveness (34%) / Proven experience/results in sector (34%)
  3. Speed of execution (21%) / Breadth of capability (21%)

And with budgets to hit and targets to meet, value-for-money and a streamlined solution are top of marketers’ needs. How value is delivered is outlined in the survey, with almost 8 out of 10 of leaders surveyed agreeing that an agency that delivers branding and advertising expertise as part of singular streamlined service would be an advantage to their business.

“In truth, few agencies have really cracked how to blend those two disciplines,” Chris explains. “Despite the fact that they are, and should be, part and parcel of the same investment.

“A client will speak to an advertising agency that’s well versed in brands,” he says, “and broadly what they’ll talk about is brand advertising. But when they talk to a design agency that’s well versed in brands, they’ll talk about the broader world of branding.”

To square the circle, so-called ‘hybrid’ agencies attempt to merge the two disciplines. But in most cases, they don’t do so effectively. 

What’s the way forward? Ultimately, Chris believes that rather than fighting each other, advertising and branding need to start learning from each other. 

Here he explains more about how, and why. 


The conclusion


The world is changing – the climate crisis, the cost of living pressures, political unrest – and with it, businesses are also innovating and evolving. 

“The age of the ego-centric agency is over,” reflects Carole. “And luckily for businesses, there’s a lot of brilliant agencies in the world – although finding them isn’t always easy. But we hope that, with our new positioning at the crossroads of branding and advertising, Borne is ready to support businesses how and when they need it. We are a creative partner for the real world. 

“We, like many agencies, have benefited from a Covid exodus of talent from London: now, businesses can access talent from London’s biggest ad agencies from independent agencies, giving them that global brand experience and talent, with independent agency speed and dedication.” 

To find out more about Borne, and its branding and advertising agency disciplines.