A Visa Case Study on Transparent Agency Relationships

By Ashley Cole, Mithun Sharma

Visa is one of the biggest and most successful brands in the world. We are the only brand that is a major sponsor of the Olympics, the Paralympics, FIFA, and the NFL.

The marketing team manages our B2C, B2B, and B2B2C efforts across more than 100 countries, five regional hubs, and global cross-functional teams. Our agency partnerships navigate local, regional, and global requirements. We are constantly working with finance, sourcing, marketers, and our agencies to reach our objectives and unlock value and integration points between our marketers and agencies.

At Visa, our client and agency partnerships are at their best when we are clear about our goals and the agency is focused on its role in helping achieve those outcomes. We believe that focusing on strict savings expectations or spreadsheet gymnastics is not the path to a successful relationship. Rather, relationships thrive and incremental value is achieved when sourcing and marketing partner with agencies toward mutual expectations.

Transparency and clear communication are key to aligning on a joint outcome with our agencies. We knew we needed to find a way to work better, and smarter, towards the goal of a much stronger relationship. As recently as 2019, our teams started linking our marketing goals with our global creative and media agencies. We have joint accountability with each other and our agencies and we update the goals annually to reflect our agency and business needs.

Our accountable compensation framework is designed with the following expectations:

  • A partnership created between Visa and our key agencies to drive transparency and rigor behind performance.
  • A way to bring attributable results to financial outcomes for our partners.
  • A continuous and auditable view of the relationship's success and opportunities for improvement.
  • Directly linking a portion of our agencies' compensation to how they perform across a set of pre-aligned criteria.

This program was designed to help manage three key challenges we were facing as an organization: (1) performance was not aligned to attributable marketing metrics; (2) quality of creative and media was not assessed via a third party; (3) NPS scores did not accurately capture actionable feedback. We were previously not measuring or linking agency performance to Visa performance or effectively providing the potential to reward our agencies financially for outstanding performance.

The introduction of this framework allows our key agencies to have a common platform with unique areas for each partner (creative, production, and media) and shared accountability for business results across three major pillars:

  • Relationship: Qualitative mechanism to assess agency performance by key Visa stakeholders via a survey that focuses on deep diving across seven key areas:
    • Innovation and Solutions: The agency develops breakthrough ideas, strategies, and/or programs that meet both our short- and longer-term objectives and help to improve our marketing strategy.
    • Integration: The agency manages integration between the agency ecosystem and Visa global, regional, and/or local teams with consistent communication and alignment on goals and ways of working.
    • Trust and Partnership: The agency is a partner we trust to deliver on Visa's objectives, exemplifying Visa's leadership principles.
    • Reliability and Subject Matter Expertise: The agency proactively anticipates key issues, perceptions, and trends; interprets their impact on our business; and develops strategies for dealing with them.
    • Overall Relationship: The agency presents several viable options for any given situation, strategic rationales for each, cost justification and/or efficiencies, and a clear recommendation based on the likely impact for Visa.
    • Governance: The agency understands and complies with our hierarchy, protocols, governance, and culture.
    • Inclusion and Diversity: The agency exemplifies I&D through its own people, thought processes, and deliverables.
  • Value: Attributable delivery of key outcomes defined by agency core capabilities. These can include media value, digital ad quality, production efficiency, and creative consistency (audited by third parties and benchmarked versus industry standards).
    • Varies by type of agency and what they are expected to do for Visa. This will measure how good they are at delivering on their core capabilities.
    • Mostly measured by external third parties.
  • Outcomes: Attributable performance of agency contribution to Visa business results. These can include campaign performance, ad recall, and ROI. (Measured by third parties and modeling methods by the global insights and analytics teams.)
    • Varies by type of agency but is connected to driving business results. Many of the metrics here are dependent on cross-agency collaboration to be successful.
    • Measured by both internal Visa teams and external third parties.

The result of this approach is that we have transparent agency relationships that deliver fair and measurable outcomes for Visa and our agencies. The intangible outcome is that great talent is staffed on our accounts across the world and the teams feel aligned. With a spirit of partnership, learning, and continuous improvement, we are all meeting our goals.

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.

Ashley Cole is the VP of global marketing at Visa.

Mithun Sharma is the VP of global sourcing at Visa.