Until the early 2000s, advertising agencies acted as full-service partners – all-rounders – offering a wide range of services to their clients. Then with the onset of technological disruption, this business model fragmented. Taking advantage of the gaps and the opportunities, new players entered and opted for a niche model and offshoots were created mostly around online marketing, social media, search agencies, events and PR. All these offshoots were seen as go-getters, vying to create a unique position for themselves vis-à-vis the advertising agencies that focused on creativity and media buying and planning.
Now the time has come for brands to decide to take one of two strategic paths; cooperation with a full-service agency (a partner in the journey towards a brand’s success), or keep working with creatives, planners, consultants and social managers as separate entities.
Only clients with clear goals and a strategic vision of the future will be able to make the right decision. Simply put, clients who know what they want from their agency will be able to make the right decision – and this decision will determine their brand’s success, as well as the concept of the agency of the future.
Today, clients have to manage multiple agencies and partners to ensure the brand philosophy remains intact; bring together all the ideas from different partners and be the focal point for communication coming out of these partner agencies. As a result, they have been reluctantly pushed into a new role of being the coordinators and guardians of the corporate identity. Furthermore, it is extremely expensive to retain several agencies and cover their multiple operational costs.
Surviving and excelling in the future means agencies stay relevant to their client’s requirements and to do this, they will have to move out of their comfort zone and reposition themselves, adapt and commit to ‘a smart more’ in the way they service their clients; this in turn means being strategic, delivery-focused and flexible in approach.
Surviving and excelling in the future means agencies stay relevant to their client’s requirements and to do this they will have to move out of their comfort zone and reposition themselves, adapt and commit to ‘a smart more’ in the way they service their clients; this in turn means being strategic, delivery-focused and flexible in approach. Agencies will also have to build top-to-top partnerships, demonstrating value beyond the marketing team and understand that one size no longer fits all.
So what will be the agency of the future? An anchor agency with a roster of leaders working as partners operating within a single agency and not as ‘agency partners from various agencies’ perhaps. However, I think the agency of the future is not a formula or a set of capabilities. Rather, it is about an adaptive team built around a single purpose. We must also consider the fact that capability will become a commodity; technology will further fuel this process and ongoing pressures on margins will not help. The way forward for agencies is to reposition themselves through broad shifts in their operating and client-engagement models, remuneration, approach to talent, skills and competencies. Agencies have always been good at moving to the next big thing and I have no doubt that they will do this successfully this time too – although it seems they will have to service big revenues on lean margins.
In terms of changes in engagement, operating models and competencies, the key roles within agencies will have to evolve. It will have to be an agency with professionals from all disciplines; the most creative creatives, the most effective planners, the most efficient delivery executives and the most brilliant consultants – working together seamlessly with one agenda, which is the success of the brand. To make this orchestra perform effectively, account management will have to play the important role of conductor and communicate their understanding of the brand values to the various disciplines within the agency. This will be the key to orchestrating agency capability and ensuring mutual benefit for the client and the agency.
Attracting exceptional talent (already in short supply) will be the most strategic war the agencies will have to fight and the biggest attraction for such talent will be the agency’s culture, which will have to exceed their lifestyle expectations. This is easier said than done, as it will be an uphill task for a full-service agency to build a team able to deliver quality work across disciplines from a single physical workplace. The way forward will be to hire the right resources for specific brand projects, even if they are based in different cities within the same country or in different countries – the only thing that will matter is what is best for the brand. Furthermore, agency teams need to be built around achieving all brand goals – daily, short-term and long-term.
Agencies will have to be willing, flexible and able to engage with clients as per their changing needs from products to services, experience to transformation, brief to diagnosis, from campaigning to always-on and adapting to new tools. In some areas, agencies will have to repackage and redefine the existing capabilities in ways that are relevant, solution-focused and differentiated.
Technology will become increasingly entrenched within the marketing and advertising functions and agencies will need to keep up (if not be ahead) with technology. To optimise value, agencies will have to go even further in their capability of combining human and machine intelligence. In this technologically complex world, agencies will have a great opportunity to act as the ‘sensible-partners’ to their clients, which if done successfully, will convert a good agency-client relationship into a great client- long-term relationship.
In the past, agencies tried the ‘from one to many’ model; however, for the agency of the future, it will be ‘back to one.’ In other words, from integrated to fragmented, back to integrated.
The time has come to pull all this together, take control and help clients sail through the complexities in the smoothest, most efficient and effective way. It makes sense for agencies and their clients to benefit from streamlined costs. It makes even more sense for clients to work with a single trusted partner who can orchestrate a broad spectrum of work that drives KPIs across a variety of pillars.
Asim Naqvi is CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Pakistan.