How Agencies Can Achieve 3.0 Status

Simplicity and the 'Four Ts' will help them evolve

RFPs today solicit competencies that reach beyond the traditional agency mandate.
Getty Images

The advertising industry has never been hit as hard as it’s being hit today. It’s facing economic, technological and even geopolitical disruption across the board. Add the complicating factors and steep learning curves around new tech-driven touch points—artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, voice command, chatbots—and you can see why marketers are scrambling for footing and pushing their agencies to prove their value. The unprecedented volume of advertising budgets—more than $30 billion—that has recently changed hands during what many referred to as “Mediapalooza” is a clear indicator of this disruption.

Lesley Klein

It’s no secret the agency model needs to evolve. As an advisor to some of the world’s biggest brands on priorities ranging from organizational transformation to agency reviews and client-agency “therapy sessions,” I have a front-row seat to what marketers want and need from their agency partners—a new set of skills and capabilities best represented by what Adweek has dubbed “Agencies 3.0.” RFPs today solicit competencies that reach beyond the traditional agency mandate and include integrated content and distribution strategies, greater operational agility, transparency, data science and analytics, and programmatic expertise.

Those requirements might seem like a tall order, but there are a few things agencies can do to meet them. The first is simple: simplify. Agencies can flatten their structures and tear down silos that separate integral disciplines. Agencies 3.0 demand a rebundling of disciplines that were historically unbundled—creative, media and analytics. Creative and media practices should be built upon a strong data and analytics foundation and be woven closely together.

In one recent pitch, the client demanded a truly integrated approach to media and creative, intricately linked to one another and built upon insights in near real time. Look to Omnicom’s McDonald’s win last year for another clear example of an astute Agencies 3.0 approach weaving together content, data, strategy and social through one aperture. And it’s not just McDonald’s.

Honda recently returned its media buying assignment to RPA to more fluidly synchronize content production. Other recent industry moves indicate the demand for new agency configurations as a real and growing trend. According to Advertiser Perceptions, 64 percent of U.S. brands will review their media agencies in 2017.

Recalibrating to become an Agency 3.0 also requires a killer content strategy. Marketers spent more than $72 billion on TV ads in 2016, but they spent just as much on digital content across Facebook, Google, Instagram, YouTube, Amazon and other content-distribution platforms. In one recent agency review, the client specifically focused on the creation, distribution and ultimate monetization of content. They didn’t want to merely create their own content; they wanted to profit from it. In a world in which everyone is a content creator, Agencies 3.0 help clients maximize the value of that content.

A third, and perhaps most critical, requirement for Agencies 3.0 is transparency across all economic elements of the client-agency relationship. In the past month, the world’s largest marketer, P&G, announced a review of all agency contracts—but it’s not alone. In fact, according to the World Federation of Advertisers, or WFA,” a trade body that represents brands including L’Oréal, Emirates and P&G, 90 percent of advertisers are taking a closer look at contracts to demand more transparency. Agencies 3.0 are going to have to be accountable as marketers demand more granularity around every element of their investment and agency compensation in media, production, staffing and technology.

Finally, Agencies 3.0 will have to be savvy to what MediaLink calls the “Four Ts”: trust, technology, talent and time.

Trust: At its core, the agency-client relationship is a partnership. Metrics should be verifiable, and ROI and operating costs should be transparent. These are fact-based conversations.

Technology: Tech fluency is table stakes in a world where the explosion of devices, platforms and innovation have forever transformed the way consumers receive content and messaging.

Talent: Our industry runs on people and competes on talent. In the past two years alone, the ad industry has lost approximately a quarter of its global talent to competing industries. Marketers tell us they need more “athletes,” meaning those who can deliver, or orchestrate, multidisciplinary solutions across the data, tech, media, marketing and monetization of it all. That won’t happen if we can’t attract, train and retain more and smarter people across the board.

Time: “Always on” is an overused, yet under-appreciated phrase. Consumers are tech-empowered, device-rich and content-weary. Agencies 3.0 run at the speed of people.

It may feel daunting to stand at the starting line and see the finish so far away. But agencies are resilient, and they are packed with smart, creative thinkers accustomed to solving big problems for their clients. Now agencies need to turn that brainpower inward to resolve their own challenges, and speed is of the essence. The same changes that have rapidly and dramatically reshaped our clients’ industries require agencies to move quickly to fortify their own before they are swept away.

Lesley Klein is a managing director at MediaLink.