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Published in Nov-Dec 2019

Faraz Maqsood discusses the transformations to look out for in the new agency structure

In our fast-paced, ever-chameleonic and hyper-connected world, the rate of change is hurtling us into an ecosystem where collaboration is the new agency structure. The ability to collaborate fosters a brand of creativity we are now beginning to see all around us, and the agencies that can collaborate in important ways are the ones which will succeed.

You may have already noticed the increasing overlap between clients, publishers, platforms, in-house and (for lack of a better word) out-house agencies, where the new collaborative ecosystem includes opportunities for all participants. If the outlines seem blurred, that is because they are – as data is increasingly informing creativity, talent is being calibrated on a speed-to-market metric and the media is being coaxed back into the folds of creative thinking as a valuable partner and not an isolated event. If we collectively understand how to navigate the opportunities and challenges that this new ecosystem presents, we will be prepped and prepared to do our best work, right alongside a new world order that, until now, we never expected to work – or work with.

Here are three transformations to look out for in the new agency structure:

1. The rise of the in-house agency

That’s right. More creative talent is moving to the client side. While this may seem counter-intuitive to the agency model, recruiting agency people into marketing departments and dovetailing design talent into digital is increasingly necessary due to the sheer volume of delivering a business across digital and the speed-to-market required to achieve it. Having creative resources in-house leads to cost efficiencies, easy dialogue, consolidated brand knowledge and greater agility (as an extension of marketing) to upscale projects, campaigns or activations. But the spirit of collaboration means that in-house agencies will also work closely with external partners on a project-to-project basis, guided by the knowledge that outside expertise is valuable, diversity of opinion and perspective is important, and co-creation leads to more innovation. By counting on a holistic approach and harnessing the additive value of all partners, both legacy and direct-to-consumer brands can make sure that teamwork beats work.

2. Data works – until it doesn’t

What does the future look like? Some may say it looks like a megaton of data. Sadly, a lot of critical thinking and its strategic skill set have been compromised after a decade of transactional-oriented advertising that is putting data at the heart of communication. But humans are not spreadsheets. So while we must be open to data, it is just as important to bake magic into this science. Because if creative content is not magical, then no amount of data intelligence will help the brand succeed. Moreover, we must be careful not to get too complacent with data either. We must be vigilant and not let the numbers dictate the strategy while we validate the insights we derive from this science to co-create ideas for clients. And with the increasing commoditisation of data and third-party metrics, we must also remember not to consider these as a replacement for authentic insights. Insights which are instrumental in generating the data that everyone is after in the first place.

3. Give the talented a break

How do we get a skill set for today’s challenges? Try to find those who lead with curiosity and creativity. Look for people who ask for the ‘Why?” and you are already in the company of provocative and challenging viewpoints. When we break down the current, assembly-line infrastructure at agencies, we allow for everyone to participate with a roundtable perspective. Or use a T-shaped model where one person has specialist knowledge but others have a diversity of purview across industries, demographics and experiences to really pressure-test the ‘Whys?’ Data shows that more diverse teams show better results. Which means it is time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable because that is what drives innovation. More importantly, now is the time to have honest conversations with the next generation because they have options: they can raise their own money, build their own ideas, be well-paid freelancers or upgrade to your competition. Better still, by giving new people an opportunity to experience the agency across-the-board before they settle into their preferred discipline will help them feel naturally cast into what they do best rather than feel designated into something they feel less passionate about.

Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE & CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.