Marketing

Why are agencies always ‘partnering’ with platforms?

Last year, every major agency—WPP, IPG, Publicis, Dentsu, and Havas—announced some sort of partnership with TikTok. We break down what these announcements mean.
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· 4 min read

In early May, mega-media company WPP announced a partnership with Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, to “accelerate innovation” in the metaverse.

Though details were a bit vague in the press release, the partnership will see WPP employees get access to “training and tools” that can help build new experiences in Fortnite and learn how to use Epic’s creation tool Unreal Engine. Cool!

But, these kinds of partnerships—deals between agencies and platforms—are nothing new.

In fact, just last year WPP announced a “new global agency partnership” with TikTok. So did everyone else in some capacity, including Publicis, IPG Mediabrands, Dentsu, and Havas Media Group, to name a few.

Our question: What do agencies actually get from these kinds of partnerships, besides a nifty press announcement?

WPP spokesperson Martina Suess told Marketing Brew that the agency isn’t paying for the training, but that there are other “commercial elements within the scope of the partnership” that she couldn’t comment on, specifically declining to answer whether the partnership would give WPP get reduced rates from Epic Games or access to new inventory.

Ana Milicevic, principal and cofounder of digital advisory firm Sparrow Advisers, said in a tweet that these types of partnerships are “super typical,” comparing them to a “hunting license of sorts” that gives companies “exposure and pitching opportunities” to an agency’s clients.

Later, over email, she clarified that a lot of these partnerships are “mainly meant as PR.” But if taken seriously, agency folks get the benefit of talking points, marketing materials, and “in some cases training” to pitch to clients.

It’s a way for agencies to show clients they have ties to the platform or idea “du jour,” Jordan Bitterman, CMO of the ad-tech firm TripleLift, told Marketing Brew over Twitter direct messages. They’re “a lock for perceptual benefits, but only sometimes does it pay off with tangible/business results,” he said. “The trick is having someone (or a team) at the agency that truly knows their way around that topic/partner and can turn it into something effective.”

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What actually happens when these partnerships are inked “runs the gamut,” Bitterman explained. He went on to say that in more “codified and aggressive cases,” specifics around media-spend goals or client wish lists might be outlined. Other times, it’s more general.

Meta-what?

WPP said its partnership with Epic Games will help clients “accelerate innovation” in the metaverse. Of course, the metaverse is an industry buzzword that can mean several different things, depending on who you’re talking to.

“I roll my eyes,” said Natalie Bowman, managing director of marketing and advertising at Alaska Airlines. “I just see that as, like, a strategist who is going to be in the conference room purporting to be an expert in this space when there are no experts in this space. A lot of clients will fall for it, a lot of big brands—WPP knows what they’re doing.”

Bowman told Marketing Brew that of the three creative agencies her brand works with, all have pitched different strategies regarding Web3. Of course, the different perspectives aren’t a bad thing, said Bowman. “It just speaks to the fact that there are no experts in this space yet and there are so many different angles a brand could take.”

Jeff Kauffman Jr., founder of the Web3 marketing community JUMP, told Marketing Brew that an agency striking a partnership with a gaming company could just signal where younger consumers are spending time. “If WPP’s brands, their clients, want to have relevance with a huge group of people, where the majority of their time is spent in games, then you’ve got to have that partnership.”

He then conceded that time will tell whether the partnership is actually successful and what will come from the deal. For now, the partnership is a “right to do a press announcement…They told the world they really like each other: Now, are they really going to follow through? Are they going to have a happy family, and all that stuff?”

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