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Network vs. Partnership – Why marketing network models should matter to global B2B marketers

Discover how BBN International decodes agency networks vs. partnerships, explores marketing network models, and maximises campaign effectiveness.
Ed Davis

If you’re a corporate marketer whose job is to get a B2B marketing message in front of a global audience, is the structure of your agency’s network really of importance when you’ve got so many other considerations when appointing a creative partner?

After all, there are a diverse array of models (we’ve counted 20), and even if you are just considering the two largest categories: holding company networks and partnerships, how much of a difference can it make?

On the surface, the holding company model seems like a good deal for clients – a central point of contact, offices in numerous markets, and promises of a huge suite of skills at their fingertips. The holding companies certainly get a lot of press, especially when a global brand with a multi million-dollar marketing budget announces an account review, sending global new business teams into an all-hands-on-deck pitching frenzy.

So, why have we at BBN International spent the best part of the last decade investing in our partnership of independently owned B2B agencies which now extends to 70 offices in 30 countries? It’s all about local market knowledge with a global footprint.

The ‘one-agency experience’ > centralisation

The promise of centralised account management is, of course, the holding company golden goose. But in this era, it strikes us as being less and less relevant to how global businesses see the world.

Gone are the days of the marketing team at the US headquarters maintaining a stranglehold on brand messaging, as everyone wakes up to the idea that there’s more to local nuance than translating a slogan.

And while on the surface centralisation sounds easier for clients, it can actually leave campaigns caught up in bureaucracy as work passes through multiple layers of management.

Our approach provides a one-agency experience – it’s just that client A’s agency might look completely different to client B’s agency.  That’s because our approach is bespoke to each client’s unique needs and based on identifying integrated delivery teams which combine relevant sector experience and geographic knowledge with technical and creative competencies.

Democracy, not dictatorship

Unlike the hierarchical structure of holding companies, BBN International operates on a collaborative basis where each agency maintains its independence while subscribing to a common banner and set of marketing tools and processes. Without a rigid hierarchy, internal politics are less fraught and a culture of respect and collaboration emerges.

This enables BBN International to leverage the specific strengths and sector expertise of its member agencies (we have clients in 23 different B2B industries), and fosters an environment where the best-suited agency takes the lead on a project – an approach that is essential for complex briefs.

A partnership of entrepreneurs

Holding company networks always have a few entrepreneurs among the ranks – unfortunately, they tend to be working their earn-out clause while they think about their next start-up.

The BBN International partnership, by contrast, comprises independent agencies, many of which are run by the people who founded and still own them. That’s a totally different mindset when it comes to work. For our agencies, agility is not just a theory, it’s the reason we thrive in this business and it’s how we think, act and deliver every single day. BBN International people are classic ‘opportunity-over-problem’ thinkers who instinctively apply that same mindset to the business of our clients.

So, while the creative strategy and logistics of delivery are important, there’s a lot more to choosing the best partners when it comes to global B2B campaigns which really make a difference to your brand. And the names which get all the headlines aren’t necessarily the partners who are in the best position to make your campaigns thrive.


Ed Davis, Director of International Client Relationships at BBN International

Ed is a multi-faceted B2B communications executive experienced in leading international organisations focused on brand, marketing and sales campaigns that expand client visibility to drive revenue growth and market share. Ed has a demonstrated ability in improving business performance, increasing revenue and expanding client bases. He is also an accomplished board member, communications advisor and public speaker.

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