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Survey Predicts a Bleak Future for Agencies

Shops need to go digital or die

Mark Sneider, president of RSW/US

If you think the prospects for agencies are challenging right now, look ahead five years.

Some 320 marketing and agency leaders did just that, painting a bleak portrait of 2019 in an anonymous survey from RSW/US. The most cynical marketers predicted the agency world will become very niche, nonexistent or extinct, and an agency executive even admitted that future shops will be in disarray.

In short, survival will hinge on digital capabilities. As one agency honcho put it, “For the few left standing, it’s an online world.” Said another: “Survivors— and there will be few that make the transition—will all be digital shops.”

More sanguine respondents expect agencies to be analytical, digitally focused and data-driven, with some behaving more like general contractors than ad makers.

Successful shops, said a marketer, will become “very flexible with third party contractors supplementing the skills the agency may not have.” Another marketer added that shops will “bring in lots of specialists— preferably the best specialist—to execute against individual tactics.”

Such partnerships are already emerging, with agencies as diverse as Young & Rubicam and Mindshare introducing new technology companies like Interlude and Wochit to clients. “Marketers are becoming more and more accepting of that sort of a structure,” Mark Sneider, president of RSW/US, told Adweek. “This [technology] thing is moving so quickly, you can’t at the end of the day expect a single agency to be so on top of it.”

Reebok, Acura, MetLife and Hilton were among the marketers represented in the survey, which was conducted online in December. The agency sample included execs from shops like Leo Burnett, DDB, JWT and Y&R.

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