6 Trends Agencies Need to Prepare for in 2019

The past year saw a lot of upheaval in advertising

Instilling trust will be a major component in agency life moving forward. Getty Images
Headshot of Mark Duval

What do 2019 industry predictions mean for agencies? Agencies manage change on an ongoing basis, but with limited resources and many trends to navigate. How does one determine which trends have staying power and demand attention?

Here are six ongoing trends agencies should be ready for in 2019.

Marketing services will continue to go in-house

What can agencies do in response? First off, they can offer an on-site embedded team option to address the concern that agencies are too slow and have inadequate understanding of brands. They can also create new solutions for brands to successfully manage in-house operations, either during ramp-up stages or an ongoing basis. Lastly, they should be prepared to work collaboratively as brands assemble resources in new configurations to meet their changing needs.

Successful agency solutions will address the underlying reasons why brands have taken work in-house: distrust, fear of overpaying, desire for greater control and concerns that agencies aren’t fast or connected to the brand enough.

Agencies must be prepared to rebuild credibility

To repair trust, agencies must emphasize transparency and value, focusing on business results rather than lowest cost services.

Trust between agencies and brands has been damaged, and with it, so has relationships. One need only look to the shrinking scope and length of agency-brand relationships for evidence of that. To repair trust, agencies must emphasize transparency and value, focusing on business results rather than lowest cost services.

They can do that by tying creative to business outcomes and dropping marketing jargon to speak the same language as the C-suite. Consultancies’ focus on bottom line results and operational efficiency has paid off well for them. Agencies who can offer that along with stellar creative will be in demand.

Agency models will continue to evolve

Expect more M&A as agencies continue to restructure and repackage their services. The emphasis will be on agency models with less fat, less overhead and greater category expertise, as agencies strive to become faster, more responsive and offer greater value. There will be more agency closings, above-average employee migration and new competition. Agencies should take time to re-evaluate and make needed changes to their structure, services and positioning to remain competitive.

Agencies will have to address their culture

Culture increasingly has a negative impact on agency new business as brands demand more gender and ethnic diversity. To start, that requires a safe, inclusive environment with opportunities for all. It also means investing in ongoing education, recognition, incentives and advancement opportunities for agency employees.

Positive culture is not just “nice to have.” Agencies are notorious for their long hours and low pay. At one time, this sacrifice was viewed as worthwhile due to the excitement of the work and future potential opportunities, but the future of agencies and their employees is much less secure now. Employee morale is low, and workers have alternative options in consulting firms, in-house agencies, freelancing and Silicon Valley. To attract and retain the talent needed to remain competitive, agencies must make employee culture a priority.

The scope of new business and how it is won continues to evolve

More business is being awarded on a project basis. Additionally, it is common to see larger projects emerge from relationships established through smaller trial projects. Agencies that have looked down on project work should reconsider. Projects are excellent opportunities, especially for small- to mid-sized agencies, to show a brand why they deserve more business. Not to mention, unlike most pitches, projects are paid work.

Agencies will also see more attempts by brands to either streamline or avoid the traditional RFP and pitch process. Considering how costly pitches have become, this is a favorable development for agencies. In any path to new business, marketers today hold disproportionate power. To avoid undervaluing themselves, agencies must be clear on what they will compromise on, the value they bring to the table, where they can be flexible and which opportunities are worth pursuing.

Increased competition makes ongoing new business tasks critical

As agencies manage a greater volume of smaller shorter-term projects, it’s important to focus resources wisely and cut waste. This means focusing on right-fit opportunities with laser precision and disqualifying poor-fit opportunities as quickly as possible. New business success requires a solid, repeatable strategy and process that aligns with agency objectives. To be effective, proactive lead generation activities must be undertaken in support of that strategy on an ongoing basis. Doing the work to create this new business foundation can also inform a stronger agency position and improve resource efficiency.

So, what does this all mean?

In 2019, many trends are competing for limited agency resources. Some of them will prove to be little more than passing fads. Each of these six trends has been ongoing and has become significant enough to demand agency attention. Winning agencies will be ready for all of them in the new year.

@duvalpartner Mark Duval is the founder of The Duval Partnership.