Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 27, 2010 9:35 PM

The Agency Of The Future

The Marketing Agency world continues to change and evolve.

Just the other week, news broke that ZenithOptimedia UK will be going through a restructuring. There are rumors that Starcom MediaVest Group may also look to change things up in the UK. With every passing week, we hear more stories about Marketing professionals coming and going, departments being shifted, removed or created, and consolidation is a common practice when big brands meet big business.

What's it going to take a for an agency to make it? What's it going to take for a brand to find the right agency for the job?

Last week, MediaBizBloggers, had a post titled, The Agency of the Future is Now the Agency of the Past, by Uwe Hook. As the Marketing industry continues to mature, and as new channels and platforms enter the fray (mostly due to technology), it's important to think long and hard about what a real Marketing agency  is going to look like. Instead of hacking together a quick Blog post to respond/elaborate on Hook's perspective, I took the week to think, take notes and push some of the ideas to an edgier edge.

This is what the agency of the future might look like... 

  • It won't be small. It won't be big. Many pundits thought that the big agencies with multiple disciplines would rule them all, while others thought that it would be the boutique shops that can pay more attention and care to the brand that would win. It's probably going to be somewhere in the middle. The more likely solution will be an agency with a solid core group that can accommodate both the size of the brand and the scope of the work. One that can scale as needed and detract when the needs are less imminent.
  • De-centralized. While geography and understanding the "people on the street" will still be important in terms of cultural relevance, the agency of the future will be more de-centralized. That core unit (mentioned above) will be working with more freelancers that are both physically present and those that are anywhere and everywhere in the world. While great creative comes from great collaboration, the tools that enable us to collaborate are getting us to the point where the realities of leveraging a Digital Nomad workforce will become more prevalent and cost-effective.
  • Chief Marketing Technologist. Marketing and IT are going to have to come together in a much bigger way. I made the case for this, right here: The Time Is Ripe For A Chief Marketing Technologist. If technology (and living it) is not core to your Marketing agency, you'll never make it out alive. Start looking at how many full-time tech people you employ versus creative and client services, and get that ratio working better.
  • Content. Most brands don't see themselves as publishers and most agencies don't have a lot of people creating value-added content. This is going to change. Whether it's because of Social Media or the sudden growth of branded content, more and more agencies will have amped up content departments that will look, strikingly, like the creative departments of today and yesterday.
  • Community Management. While many brands are hiring community managers to deal with the many online conversations, they are are going to struggle with the scaling of this role, and it will be encumbent on the modern agency to act as the community manager for many of these brands. More and more consumers are starting their conversations with a brand online and a handful of people within an organization managing this back and forth won't be a viable long-term strategy.
  • Strategy lead will come from the Digital side. If more and more people are having their first brand interaction at a search box and more and more brands have the online channel as the primary point of contact for consumers (or the first place a consumer goes with a query), the current landscape of the traditional agency leading the communications program is going to have to change and shift. If the majority of consumers are starting with a brand online, that's where the strategy lead needs to take place as well.
  • Advertising shrinks. We tend to forget that advertising is a sub-set of Marketing. Marketing is going to become the primary driver and advertising - while still being a critical part of the marketing mix - will play a less significant role. The jewel in the crown of an entire Marketing campaign won't be the 30-second spot or the billboards. It's probably going to be many jewels from many different parts of that marketing mix (and the majority of them will be digital).
  • Non-integrated. Brands think that an integrated solution is best, more cost-effective and cohesive to messaging. This is going to be the biggest and most dramatic change. Integrated won't work. Multiple disciplines working together is where the gold is going to be. We're not just talking about your digital shop sitting at the table with your corporate communications and general advertising agency - it's going to be deeper than that. There will be micro-specialists (like search engine optimization, analytics, etc...) all brought in (as needed) to make things flow. Even the current slew of agencies that claim full-integration have silos so wide and deep that they may as well be non-integrated.
  • Mobile is Digital. As much as those micro-specialists will be critical to a brand's success, the digital aspect needs to think with one-line of connectivity. Having an online strategy and a mobile strategy is not going to work. Consumers are simply connected, and whether they are doing a search on their smartphone or at their desktop, they're not thinking of it as two very different or unique channels. The agency of the future shouldn't either.
  • Analytics. The beginning, middle and end of success will be the analytics and metrics. Real metrics. Real insights and real reactions. None of this will be possible without a heavy analytics department capable of not only slicing and dicing the data, but working with the creative and client services department to help their brands see what others cannot.
  • The new creative. Creative will not just be about "the big idea." Creative will be much more about many big ideas done in many different channels. This is going to force the hand of the current slew of creatives to re-think how they structure, present and produce great creative. It's not about shifting from 30-second spots to banner ads, and it's not about making a billboard work in an email. The core role of the creative department will extend and expand well-beyond it's current incantation.
  • Storytelling as a department. Storytelling may be part of how this creative department will evolve. Whether it's transmedia or the growing popularity in having a non-linear story being told by a brand, the core idea of making a brand a better story-teller (through content, analytics, social media and various other media channels) is going to change the org chart in a major way.

That's my side, what's yours? What does the agency of the future look like to you?

By Mitch Joel


Comments