Code Worldwide

The Progression of Agency Value

31.05.2012
Matt McNeany

Matt McNeany

Founder and Chief Executive Officer

There's a brilliant new report that focuses on how Agencies need to change to keep pace with changes in the Marketing landscape and evolving Client needs. It’s a really interesting read – for what’s barely mentioned as much as for what's covered.

The report, from Econsultancy in conjunction with Adobe, which is available for paid download here (there’s also a free sampler), outlines a range of key findings on how advances in Technology and associated trends are pretty much ripping up an Agency rulebook that hasn't been updated much since, well, ever.

The report’s author, Neil Perkin, who runs the Only Dead Fish consultancy / blog, has done a great job of talking to a wide range of Agency types to get a full picture of the concerns of the day. So if you want a definitive record of what’s keeping Agency folk awake at night right now, look no further.

The Clients, they are a’ changin’

There’s a great but sadly unattributed quote near the start that, for me, really sums up the state of play:It’s hard to know what [the ad industry] is any more, where it starts and stops

It’s hard to know what [the ad industry] is any more, where it starts and stops

I think this reflects a lack of vision on the part of Agencies. That’s dangerous. Not least because Clients are crying out for some direction in this space. With so many seismic shifts happening all around us, particularly the shift in focus from campaigns to platforms, the best Agencies are able to demonstrate a clear point of view on how their business is evolving to meet changing Client requirements.

The transformational role of Technology Agencies

Agencies need a powerful, evangelical vision for what Technology can do. And evidently that’s a big ask right now. Appreciating the size of the Marketing Technology opportunity is the next big leap for Agencies. Most now understand that data, Technology and brands are all occupying the same space. And that this creates new ways of engaging consumers. 

But many have yet to appreciate the transformational power of Technology – where Technology becomes a force for change in its own right. This is about new business models – the ability to imagine Amazon before Amazon existed, or reimagining an operational model for the Technology age. Now clearly we can’t all be inventing the next Amazon every week (the next Instagram would do me) but, to avoid being marginalised, the Agency mindset has to shift beyond campaigns and on to platforms. And with it, on to new implementation and remuneration models. This is the biggest challenge to the evolution of Agency value.

And with it, on to new implementation and remuneration models. This is the biggest challenge to the evolution of Agency value.

Building blocks to realize the opportunity

It’s great to see the report covering data in some detail – I think even the most old-school Ad Agencies would now concede that data represents an insightful creative springboard, not a recipe for formulaic creative constraint. But other crucial building blocks of the Creative Technology world were conspicuous by their near absence, e.g. Mobile and the Cloud. Similarly, the report

Similarly, the report flags-up Agencies’ ongoing struggles with two other components of an always-on, platform-based world – the notions of attribution and automation. Worrying stuff. Particularly when you factor in the might of the global IT Consultancies encroaching onto what Agencies have always considered their sacred right. As

As Scott Brinker says over at Chief Marketing Technologist, the opportunity is clear: with budgets flowing out of IT and into Marketing, who’s best placed to win this new turf war?

The talent and culture challenge

The report rightly emphasizes the twin challenges of finding the best talent and creating the right culture for the new Agency model. Even though Code has been going since 2003, it’s fair to say this is still a focus for us too. And as Scott says, this Tech talent issue is only going to get worse. Really, it’s a mindset as much as knowledge of the Technology space. It’s always searching for a better way of doing things or always thinking bigger than you’re asked to think. This ‘tactical deafness’ – ignoring the initial requirement until you understand the broader picture – enables you to add much more value that you might’ve done had you simply done as you were asked. Clearly this proactivity isn’t new but, when you’re talking about Technology, that

It’s always searching for a better way of doing things or always thinking bigger than you’re asked to think. This ‘tactical deafness’ – ignoring the initial requirement until you understand the broader picture – enables you to add much more value that you might’ve done had you simply done as you were asked. Clearly this proactivity isn’t new but, when you’re talking about Technology, that

Clearly this proactivity isn’t new but, when you’re talking about Technology, that reframing of a Client’s problem doesn’t simply expand the brief, it can potentially transform their business as much as an ‘Every little helps’ or ‘Just do it’. It’s having people who think this way with Technology – people who aren’t afraid to challenge the Client – that represents the biggest cultural shift for Agencies to adopt. We know from experience that maintaining a culture that marries the rigour of IT and software development with the creativity, imagination and speed of Marketing is one of the Creative Technology Agency’s toughest challenges.

It’s having people who think this way with Technology – people who aren’t afraid to challenge the Client – that represents the biggest cultural shift for Agencies to adopt. We know from experience that maintaining a culture that marries the rigour of IT and software development with the creativity, imagination and speed of Marketing is one of the Creative Technology Agency’s toughest challenges.

The tipping point is coming

As we said recently at the IPA’s Creative Pioneers’ Conference, it’s great to see the transformation of Agencies getting more and more airtime. So reports like this one are, without doubt, required reading for Agencies of all disciplines - not to mention the Clients who hire them. Perhaps the tipping point is approaching. Will it be a major Agency network disappearing because it was too slow to adapt? Or maybe an IT Consultant winning an ad pitch will be the wake-up call. For Agencies’ sake, perhaps the sea-change could be a high-profile global network adopting a tech-enabled, IP-based remuneration model for a flagship Client. Either way, a word of warning – Clients are getting really good at this stuff. Their understanding of new Technologies and their excitement around business transformation is often beyond where Agencies’ are at. The fight for Agencies to maintain their leadership role is on. Exciting, fascinating and challenging times ahead.

Either way, a word of warning – Clients are getting really good at this stuff. Their understanding of new Technologies and their excitement around business transformation is often beyond where Agencies’ are at. The fight for Agencies to maintain their leadership role is on. Exciting, fascinating and challenging times ahead.

Or maybe an IT Consultant winning an ad pitch will be the wake-up call. For Agencies’ sake, perhaps the sea-change could be a high-profile global network adopting a tech-enabled, IP-based remuneration model for a flagship Client. Either way, a word of warning – Clients are getting really good at this stuff. Their understanding of new Technologies and their excitement around business transformation is often beyond where Agencies’ are at. The fight for Agencies to maintain their leadership role is on. Exciting, fascinating and challenging times ahead. (full disclosure – Code contributed to the Econsultancy report).