Proactive, digital-first, prioritising – even productising – innovation. That is the agency of the future.
I have spoken to around 50 UK agencies this year, working with a number of them. There is a clear move towards the integrated agency. Why?Whatever a company’s background and strengths, clients increasingly want everything from one trusted provider – for simplicity, cost, joined-up thinking, you name it.
Not every client, sure. But demand for integrated, even full-service agency is a trend.
There is also another catalyst making it possible where it often wasn’t in the past – digital.
We often talk about ‘digital glue’. The technology that has evolved over the past 15 years or so has gone way beyond traditional media and using basic internet comms channels such as email.
The first seismic change was the web, then the social web and now the mobile social web, often fuelling possibilities such as multiple simultaneous device usage, location-based services and personalisation like we only dreamt of a decade ago. (Just think what Facebook or LinkedIn knows about you – now consider that shared with other sites.)
Digital is rightly everywhere in the agency arena and marketers the world over must be digital marketers. It goes unsaid.
Measure this, Don Draper
One aspect of digital is its measurability. Marketers love data, love proof about what has worked or not. Think about some of the best work of creative types in the 60s and 70s. Perhaps a lot of it wouldn’t get out the door today (rightly or wrongly). Farewell Don Draper.
So agencies can report on all manner of KPI but how many actually do? How many use this data to continually improve performance? Or most importantly – for feedback to learn how to improve overall strategy and direction?
Many agencies find themselves in a trap of delivering routine, tactical and commoditised work often in silos and with tight coordination from the client.
Too many agencies rely on operating at 5% ahead of the client. The best people I work with don’t fake it like that.
It’s also – bluntly – not a great way to be the truly creative agency they set out to be, which is what they promise and need to deliver on.
The agency of the future
The best agencies that I know share the following characteristics:
- They don’t think in silos. Digital has enabled disparate functions with complementary skillsets to work together, often virtually from around the world.
- They haven’t lost their best people. The most creative people haven’t been ushered out over the past decade as the commodity work has come in. They’re the secret sauce that can make an agency unique.
- They don’t ‘have a go’ at digital. Digital is in their DNA. Some are young and many have only known a digital world. This in many cases gives them an advantage (though they must span offline channels – fully integrated, remember).
- Digital isn’t a loss-leader. How crazy does that sound? Yet there was a time, still is, for some when digital was a profitless bolt-on for ‘proper’ offline marketing. Try operating like that now and you are kissing future profits goodbye. AND
- They are innovative. They are this, more than anything. An outfit such as healthcare agency Hive isn’t reactive, waiting for a client to drive a job. It is consistently proactive with new ideas and solutions. And when these work, it makes them scale. This is why they are now the largest independent agency in the sector outside the US.
You could argue the last point is commoditisation (of own innovation) and let’s face it, others will always copy your success. In the agency world it is always better to lead than follow, to enjoy a market leading position and stand out that, even for a brief time. There is always the next interesting challenge ahead.
Digital business consultants
This should all paint a picture of the best agencies being closer to a client’s top-level business strategy and not just the end-of-line tactical creative outputs.
They must be digital business consultants, equally happy with high-end creative briefs, marketing services and technology – because the best agencies don’t go into a cold sweat when it comes to sourcing the right tech expertise.
The agency of the future understands the full picture and can integrate strategy, solutions and technology to deliver programmes that really move the bar.
Which is exactly what they all set out to do…