The Strategic Importance of Marketing Automation for Agencies - Interview with Mike Carlton

We recently had a brief chat with Michael Carlton of Carlton Associates Inc. to discuss the strategic importance of marketing automation to advertising agencies and some of the critical issues facing the industry.  Mike has been in and around the ad agency business for decades and continues to consult with agencies on everything from operations to branding.

MindMatrix:  What is marketing automation and why should agencies care?


Mike:  Here’s what Wikipedia says:  "The name given to software platforms designed for marketing departments and organizations to automate repetitive tasks is Marketing Automation. Marketing departments, consultants and part-time marketing employees benefit by specifying criteria and outcomes for tasks and processes which are then interpreted, stored and executed by software, which increases efficiency and reduces human error. It was originally called email marketing automation.The use of a marketing automation platform is to streamline sales and marketing organizations by replacing high-touch, repetitive manual processes with automated solutions."


Agencies should care because if they don’t embrace marketing automation as an important communications tool other providers will.  And they will carve another piece of responsibility (and money) away from what clients traditionally engaged agencies for.

MindMatrix:  How should agencies prepare for marketing automation?

Mike:  Embrace it!  Learn how to use it and how to integrate it into a holistic marketing communications program.  Recognize that it is another tool in the agency’s arsenal to help clients achieve the market outcomes they desire.

MindMatrix:  Are they set up to tackle marketing automation or do they need to adapt?

Mike:  Innovative agencies can fairly easily embrace the conceptual side of using marketing automation.  However, they will need help on the technical side.  And in some cases, if the agency is stuck in a traditional thinking rut they may need some consultative advice to get them on the most productive track.

MindMatrix: What about agency staffing requirements?  Do they need to start hiring for a new set of skills?

Mike:  Not necessarily.  Some of it can be accomplished by training existing people.  Some can be accomplished with outside advisors.  Hiring full time skilled talent in this area is difficult and expensive.

MindMatrix:  What are the consequences to agencies if they don’t pursue marketingautomation?

Mike:  They will lose share of their client’s spend to other providers and diminish their importance to the client at the same time.

MindMatrix:  Are you suggesting the ultimate demise of some agencies who don’t adopt new marketing technologies?

Mike:  Yes!

MindMatrix:  Is this something you believe they can make money at or are they simply cannibalizing existing income?

Mike:  Agencies should be able to increase their gross income by offeringmarketing automation.

MindMatrix:  What should agencies price for when it comes to marketing automation?

Mike:  Marketing automation has high value to the client.  Wherever possible use value pricing – what it is worth to the client.  Otherwise establish fees or hourly charges that reflect the knowledge and sophistication of the services and outcomes being provided.   

MindMatrix:  At the end of the day, what key things do agencies need to do to be successful at marketing automation?

Mike:  Embrace it.  It is the buzz among many marketers.  If agencies don’t grasp this opportunity they will become increasingly marginalized.


Mike has spent most of his life in and around advertising agencies. For over a quarter of a century he served in various agency functions, including general management and ownership in a 150-person shop. Along the way he held offices in the American Association of Advertising Agencies, agency networks, and became a frequent writer and speaker on agency issues.  He is the president of Carlton Associates in Chagrin Falls, OH.

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