How Marketing Agencies Can Develop Partnerships with AI Companies

By Wyatt Ferber

For marketing agencies interested in using the latest technology to drive growth, empower the workforce, and expand capabilities for clients, artificial intelligence (AI) offers the opportunity for greater executional efficiency, better distribution of valued resources, and more insightful data to deliver desired outcomes.

However, as more and more AI solutions become available, how do agency leaders identify, evaluate, and partner with the best AI companies? What are the benefits of a partnership with AI companies over a standard client relationship? How can a marketing agency maximize the value of using AI technology?

Below are key steps to ensure your agency secures a relationship with the best possible AI partner.

Partnering with AI Companies

While the offerings of AI are infinitely expanding, the cost of adding such tools to an agency's repertoire can be daunting. It is this financial burden that makes the development of partnerships so attractive to agencies. Partnerships provide opportunities to grow revenue and clientele in new markets both domestically and globally, access to cutting edge technology and experienced engineers without adding to an agency's workforce, as well as reliable sources of data for strategic planning purposes for both clients and the agency itself.

On the other side, partnerships offer the AI company incentives, in prospective clients and market-informed feedback, that allow them to lower the price tag for the client agency. Developing a win-win between the marketing agency and AI company is crucial to ensure the benefit-cost ratio is favorable to both parties.

Pre-Search Agency Self-Evaluation

For the process to be successful in finding the best AI technology, agency leadership must first evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, needs, and goals of their own company to determine which areas of the organization require the greatest assistance. While conducting this "agency self-evaluation," make note of which agency capabilities are high margin versus low margin. Also take note of which capabilities benefit from artificial intelligence versus augmented intelligence.

When thinking about the operations of the marketing agency, augmented intelligence tools help with scaling, empowering the workforce to produce more; artificial intelligence tools offer data-informed insights and processing that is a product of machine learning that exceeds what the average human hire could deliver. As an exercise, plot the agency's high margin and low margin capabilities against the need for an augmented intelligence or an artificial intelligence tool.

How leadership slots the agency's capabilities will help define the AI company search to follow, with the obvious focus on attacking high margin areas and determining whether to address the capability with an augmented or artificial intelligence tool.

Defining the Field and Conducting Due Diligence

With the prioritized capability identified, the initial stage of the search should focus on defining the field of AI companies to include in a preliminary round of discovery calls. Due to the constantly evolving technology of AI, finding the best AI company for partnership requires due diligence to review an AI company "under the hood" including its technology and engineers; the likelihood the company is acquired during the time your agency is using the tool, and the long-term vision and direction of the company (including how they are investing in R&D).

Marketing agencies should consider their relationship with any AI company as an investment – funded regularly but managed carefully with yearly ROI goals in mind. Rather than designating an AI tool as merely an expense, it should be promoted as a differentiator for the agency and its' end user clients. Therefore, under such a classification, it is the responsibility of the agency to conduct a comprehensive review of each AI company to ensure the investment being made is the best use of valued resources and is in an AI company with shared values and visions for the future.

One suggestion is to develop a checklist and grading system to make sure all questions are asked, all desired information is gathered, and all companies being evaluated are measured against one another. Among the notes on the checklist should be information about company leadership, location of headquarters, size of company, notable partners and investors, recent rounds of funding, references as well as noteworthy clients and projects, the ratio of engineers to sales members, and details about the team that will be handling the account.

These are just a few of the many questions that need to be answered – especially since the AI company will acquire a similar amount of information about the marketing agency prior to and during a discovery call. For the agency to be on equal footing as the AI company in partnership negotiations, having an equal amount of data is crucial.

Handling Discovery Calls and Demos

Next in the process of securing a partnership with an AI company for a designated capability are discovery calls and demos. To put in bluntly, discovery calls can often be a waste of time for a marketing agency. They are designed to provide the A.I. company with information to help their selling process – learning about the agency to promote their product efficiently and effectively.

To make sure these discovery calls don't become a burden to the agency, the agency should appoint a single individual to handle all discovery calls. This ensures that the information being distributed is consistent, that time of agency leadership isn't wasted on discovery calls, and this point person can direct the demo process to follow by determining which agency leaders should attend the demo.

Unlike discovery calls, demos are immensely important in the partnership process. Forgetting the traditional slide deck to open the demo, the opportunity to see how an AI company's platform operates in real time, how to navigate the tool, and how the tool creates value for the agency and end user client is the most important part of the partnership process up to this point. Agencies that will use the tool for multiple capabilities or have several departments using the tool should feel comfortable requesting multiple demos, thus allowing each department leader to ask questions specific to their needs without feeling rushed or limited by a single demo.

Negotiating a Partnership

If after a comprehensive demonstration, the agency's leadership doesn't recognize the value of the AI tool or the AI company fails against competitors in the grading system, quickly move on in the search process. However, if the AI company demonstrates value, successfully advances through an evaluation and comparison against peers, the marketing agency should communicate the interest of forming a partnership.

Rather than merely acknowledging the AI company as the automatic tool to purchase, agencies should approach the AI company with an offer focused on joint selling opportunities, long-term projects with current or prospective clients, and a unified effort to generate revenue and clientele for one another.

For marketing agencies, the partnership "give" is payment to be a client, the proposal of referring current clients to the AI company, and feedback on the AI company's technology after receiving intel from end user clients.

For AI companies, the "give" is greater access to the AI tool, access to their clients who could use marketing assistance, and possibly a reduction of fee depending on how well the agency-AI company relationships become co-selling ventures. The negotiation process should reflect both companies' interest in "expansion by association" – marketing agencies and AI companies benefit the most from having a trusted ally validate their abilities to potential clients. Partnerships that tie networks together and develop coordinated selling plans are the relationships that both the marketing agency and AI company should be seeking.

To review the process, marketing agencies should be open minded about the possibilities of AI, perform a self-evaluation to determine how AI could be of greatest assistance, conduct comprehensive due diligence to identify the best AI companies in a designated area, manage discovery calls and demos to maximize the value of information acquired — and then promote a relationship focused on partnership instead of a limited buyer-and-seller arrangement.

If a marketing agency handles the process correctly, it will be rewarded with advanced technology at its disposal, novel resources to deliver for end user clients, and an additional team of motivated selling partners to contact and court prospective business. Partnerships keep agencies' costs down or counterbalanced by revenue opportunities and business development possibilities. Marketing agencies should invest the resources, time, and commitment to identifying, evaluating, and partnering with the best AI companies possible.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Wyatt Ferber is Boathouse's director of business development and partnerships.