Agency CEOs on surviving, and thriving, under ever more client pressure

By Andrew McMains


While Fast Company‘s global CEO summit Monday morning proved to be disappointing on some fronts (aside from the fact that there were no global CEOs), the panelists did have plenty to say about key issues faced by the denizens of the corner office, to wit: changing needs of the client, agency compensation and survival tactics for the 21st century. Granted, any of these monster problems could easily have filled the 45-minute slot at Times Center Hall (if not filled a conference of its own). But a few pearls of power-tie wisdom made it worth dropping by.
  So did this exchange. Weighing in on what clients are looking for these days, Aegis Media North American CEO Nigel Morris told those assembled, “They want great talent, they want great ideas and they want accountability.”
  “But they’ve always wanted that, right?” interjected moderator and Fast Company editor Robert Safian. “To what extent is the disruption that we’re seeing in the industry being driven by the clients?”
  Morris made this much clear: “For 30 years, the influence of the industry has declined and [clients] have been going to management consultants . . . Ever since Mad Men, it has been declining.”

  Ah yes, the stuff of agency CEO nightmares. And there were more of them. While panelists generally welcomed the client shift toward performance-based compensation, there was no ignoring the elephant in the room: an uncertain future for the agency model in general. Can great talent and great ideas really save the day?
  Razorfish worldwide chairman Clark Kokich (pictured above) urged agencies to offer yet another attribute: flexibility. “When you think about the agency that you want to hire,” he said, “it’s less about where they came from, their heritage or whether they’re traditional or digital. It’s more about their ability to bring focus, curiosity and problem-solving discipline and ideas to wade through this uncertainty. To me, that is the differentiator.”
  Kokich wasn’t finished, either. “There are agencies who hang to the past and resist change because it is painful and expensive, and there are other agencies [that] will embrace it and move forward,” he said‹leaving it up to the attendees which one they wanted to be.