In 2020, initial reports indicated that the combination of COVID-19 and EU trading changes brought about by Brexit would likely cripple the most resilient of markets and threaten national and global economic growth.

Experts even predicted that industries that could mitigate the pandemic's impact would not likely fare as well in 2021 following a predicted increase in trade barriers post-Brexit.

But that version of reality is a far cry from the findings of the IBA primary research conducted in August 2020, which addressed the situation of B2B organizations working across multiple vertical markets. The research focused on businesses in New Zealand, Australia, North America, and the UK, and it found that organizations are much more optimistic about their future.

Businesses have pivoted and set their sights on new opportunities

Rather than grinding their activities to a halt, B2B businesses are using downtime to pivot PR and marketing strategies as part of their business continuity plans, the research found.

Even with the onset of Brexit, many B2B businesses in the UK, for example, are hoping to secure international opportunities with the help of their PR and marketing agencies, especially if low tariffs on selling products and favorable free-trade agreements are introduced.

In particular, 54% of companies are looking to new markets and "new geographies to ensure economic growth" to broaden their demographics. A further 86% of businesses are planning to adjust their "product, services and tactics to meet current and future customer needs."

Are traditional B2B marketing agencies worth the cost?

Despite business optimism, the current environment has also meant dreaded budget cuts for B2B organizations, with as many as 45% admitting to cost reductions in the past year. It's a development that has become a major roadblock for businesses looking to further expand their PR and marketing campaigns, with one outcome becoming apparently clear: Agencies need to become more cost-effective, or they risk losing out on future contracts.

The IBA research focused on marketing managers who spend $5-20k a month, on average, on marketing support. More than 50% of businesses said they believe their agency fees are too high. Others reported feeling that there are not enough affordable B2B agencies on the market.

Just under half of marketing managers said they are struggling to find an affordable B2B marketing agency that can work across multiple countries, which is not good news for those looking to expand campaigns into new markets and new geographies.

However, in light of 30% of businesses' reporting that the cost of their agencies far outweighs the return on their investment, and only 11% of marketing managers' stating that they are happy with their current agencies, it is clear that cost is just one problem associated with traditional B2B agencies.

Traditional B2B marketing agencies are 'out of touch'

A full 88% of B2B organizations reported feeling that a large part of their agency expenditure is wasted. Asked to provide further details, they offered criticism largely directed at traditional agency practices and attitudes.

For instance, 24% of marketing managers said agencies prioritize their big spenders, often leaving their smaller accounts feeling undervalued and mismanaged by junior staff members. That statistic aligns with the claims of 20% of managers who said their budget waste is triggered by agencies' making false starts on projects.

Further emphasizing that traditional agencies are "out of touch," 33% of marketing managers said their agency budget waste is caused by agency personnel's spending too much time on status calls as opposed to achieving measurable results. Another 21% said they are pressured by senior management to work with "big name" agencies even if those agencies don't align with campaign goals.

Some B2B marketing agencies are just missing the mark

A staggering 40% of marketing managers admitted to the difficulty of measuring the contribution of their PR and marketing agency to the overall business.

those managers were asked about the main reasons for that, 41% of them said their agencies place too much focus on high levels of media engagement with familiar media contacts rather than on content placement metrics, and 34% said their agency places content in the same small selection of media.

New market demands require agility and scalability

The results of the research demonstrate that traditional B2B marketing agencies need to adapt their strategies to meet the emerging market and industry demands, and that means demonstrating their value in an ever-increasing cost-conscious environment. B2B businesses should look for agencies that can make a shift toward targeted PR and marketing, with a focus on scalability and affordability.

To meet such considerations and establish themselves as field leaders no matter their location, business should consider a central hub. From that single point, an outreach team can generate content such as leadership articles, whitepapers, and customer stories; and they can deliver thought leadership and social media programs to new geographies and markets.

A central hub also allows geography-specific content to be localized so marketers will no longer need to waste budget on employing agencies in every new target geography. Flexible adjustments can also be made to align with new markets.

Such an approach can guarantee B2B organizations multiple placements for each piece of content generated and ensure greater brand visibility, helping to make further campaign expansion a success.

It's time for B2B marketing agencies to reconnect with marketers' needs

The tides are changing in the relationship between B2B organizations and their PR and marketing agencies. During a time of economic recovery, businesses are looking for B2B marketing agencies that can support their expansion plans.

Businesses have to overcome the hurdles of budget cuts and market disruptions and satisfy their plans for ambitious campaign expansions by using a more cost-effective and results-driven approach.

More Resources on Global B2B Marketing Agencies

10 Questions to Ask When Interviewing Your Next B2B Digital Marketing Agency

Five Reasons Your Global Marketing Is Failing (and How to Fix It)

Eight Common Campaign Management Mistakes Agencies Make

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Campaign Expansion in 2021 Requires B2B Marketing Agencies and PR Firms to Keep Pace With New Market Demands

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image of Simon Woolley

Simon Woolley is the PR account manager at IBA International, a UK-based B2B and technology PR agency.

LinkedIn: Simon Woolley