3 Questions to Ensure Your Agency Is Adapting to an Ever-Changing Industry

There's no use fighting the changes—they're coming

Our industry is constantly evolving, and right now we need to evolve more significantly if we are to remain alive.

As our clients cut spend, build out their in-house capabilities and look to reinvent themselves to be future-proof, they are questioning our operating models, ways of working and team structures.

Procter & Gamble CMO Marc Pritchard suggested having far more creatives, far less account people and more consultative senior account people to help them instead.

Having spent most of my career in creatively driven, lean agencies, I see great merit in his suggestions. However, it is good to hear him point out that this will mean a change at P&G, too. Often the agency mirrors the client and often the client team outnumbers the agency team 5-to-1.

So we agree things need to change on both sides in order for our industry to survive, but where do we start? How will we ensure evolution and not extinction? Here are some thoughts on what agencies can ask themselves in order to start the change.

We need to better understand what we do that no one else can do.

Are you continuously reinventing?

The first learning is perhaps to understand that we live in times that require constant reinvention. Only 12 percent of the companies listed on the Fortune 500 in 1955 were still on the list last year.

Kodak, GM and Toys “R” Us are still fresh in the mind, and there are many more examples. These brands failed to consider how their consumers, technology and the world around them were changing, and they eventually became obsolete.

So many agencies find a compelling and differentiated positioning and then stay there. Invariably the industry catches up, and they are no longer so differentiated. The strongest agencies know how to continuously evolve.

Take Wunderman, for example. It was a CRM agency that reinvented itself around its core offering of being a data-first shop that helps bring together the data in a meaningful way around the entire customer experience. As a result, Wunderman continues to grow amidst a sea of agencies which are seeing revenue declines.

Are you really putting the customer first?

We tell our clients to consider their customers’ needs and put them first. For the agencies, our customers are our clients. If we put them first and consider the needs our clients have, we will be better placed to add value.

We know the CMO’s role is increasingly more complex, data-driven and fragmented than ever before, and we need to help them integrate all of this across disciplines and agencies. It is why the integrated network models were born. However, for these models to continue to be of value, we need to continue to break down the silos. If we don’t, the consultants will have a field day.

As Janet Balis, EY’s global advisory leader for media and entertainment, puts it, “The name of the game is to help marketers connect the dots … there are so many places that the dots don’t connect. There are silos in the organization, people working at odds with KPIs, data sitting in particular silos. In order to connect the dots, that’s the perfect role for a consultant.”

Or, in my mind, it applies to the agencies if they pay attention. Perhaps this is what Pritchard is referring to when he asks for more consultative account leaders. This is exactly what the integrated network client leads need to be focused on. Help your clients connect the dots or forever be a vendor.

Are you sure you know your core strength?

Knowing your core strength and being able to articulate it is also important when reinventing. Historically, agencies have been great at doing this for their clients but terrible at doing this for themselves. Clients are constantly confused by the agency and network offerings.

Given so few within the agency world do this well, it helps to look outside the category. Take Airbnb, for example. It recently launched Airbnb Experiences, as it identified that its core offering wasn’t finding you a place to stay but a place to experience.

Agencies need to do the same. We need to better understand what we do that no one else can do. Be it joining the dots around the data like Wunderman or the unwavering focus on creative supremacy like adam&eveDDB.

I, for one, am all for change. Change means new. New thinking, new energy, new talent and new opportunities. So ask yourselves the three questions above, and let’s get on with starting the change.

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This story first appeared in the September 10, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.