The Business Software Needs of Advertising and PR Agencies

Even though enterprise resource planning (ERP) for services is a growing market, its most important players still take a generalist approach when it comes to dealing with specific industries, and media and advertising is one of them. Vendors like Oracle and SAP, who decided to adapt their manufacturing offering to services, or vendors like Netsuite and Deltek, who concentrated on service companies from the start, choose to mix their existing solutions—ERP, customer relationship management (CRM), and document management software, add-ons, etc.—to create solutions for specific industries in the services market.

How are advertising and PR agencies different from other service companies?

While the need for certain functionalities is shared across services companies (e.g., financials and CRM), advertising and public relations (PR) agencies have some specific requirements, which are dictated by major changes in the media market (new ways to deliver and to monetize ads). And as with any other business, their conditions are affected by the growth of the company (whether organic or through mergers and acquisitions).

Generally speaking, advertising and PR companies need robust content creation and management tools, but also content distribution solutions, since these are the deliverables they provide to customers. Their systems need to be complex enough to handle the processes and workflows that come with managing large quantities of content, but also flexible enough to encourage creativity and collaboration.

From a functional perspective, the needs of advertising and PR agencies can be separated into back office features and content management.

Back office features

Back office features are critical to running any business, but are not specific to the industry:

  1. Financials requires not only strong billing, invoicing, budgeting, forecasting, etc. but also visibility across all financial entities, including departments and subsidiaries. This proved to be an important challenge for most agencies I reviewed using case studies provided by major ERP vendors.

  2. Customer relationship management is important for tracking the interactions between agencies and their customers, but contract management is an essential feature, since most business relations in this industry are contract-based (as opposed to manufacturing, for instance, where a customer does not necessarily need a contract to purchase goods from a manufacturer). Customer segmenting and churn management are also relevant, related features for media companies.

  3. Project management is used to make sure resources are employed in an optimal way, but also to better track costs and time. Project analytics is a must to better understand how to improve how projects are managed.

Content tools

Content creation and management is extremely significant for agencies—it is central to creative industries, and such systems can be very specific to the type of business:

  1. Media monitoring gives agencies essential information on what consumers want, but also on how they respond to advertising. PR agencies can also track the number of people who read and had reactions to a press release or marketing materials using tools like Cision.

  2. Digital asset management and portfolio management are useful tools that are somewhat broader in scope than document management, because agencies create content in various formats (print, video, audio, Web, etc.).

  3. Intellectual property management is very important to advertising and PR since the content agencies create needs to be protected from unauthorized use.

Technical issues

On the technical side, some of the issues that are of high importance to advertising and PR agencies are as follows:

  • Data duplication and the management of unstructured content—To stop users from creating duplicate records or entering incorrect data, master data management tools can ensure that information is consistent and that rules are defined and maintained.

  • Integration with design tools—Most advertising agencies use various advertising production and editing solutions (e.g., Quark or Vizrt), and ERP systems need to be able to accommodate them.

  • Cloud computing—While the cloud can eliminate or reduce the above-mentioned issues, it can also introduce other hurdles, like legal compliance related to privacy, local compliance for the hosting provider, integration with on-premise solutions, etc.

  • Vendor lock-in—It may not be an issue for specific applications, but vendor lock-in can be problematic for technologies such as databases, collaboration platforms, etc. With Microsoft, for instance, analytics and business intelligence (BI) are based on SQL Server Reporting Services, SharePoint is used for document management and collaboration, etc; so moving to another technology platform would definitely be a challenge.

What are the agencies saying?

Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC) recently conducted a survey of advertising and PR agencies of all sizes, and we concluded the following:

  • Small agencies usually don’t use ERP; their focus is on media buying, production, and financials, and they often use disconnected systems to achieve these functions.

  • Medium agencies use a mix of several systems that usually offer either too much or not enough functionality for their essential operations.

  • Large and very large agencies use a mix of solutions separated into two categories: media-specific and back office. Redundancy and integration are major issues.

A more detailed report on the results of the interviews we conducted with agencies will be published soon. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts on the challenges of this industry and the ways they can be addressed.
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