Meet the agency of the future

Sure, agencies can look at all the technology changes, media shifts, industry turmoil, and business challenges they are up against and feel nothing but stress and pressure to meet the needs of the dynamic audience. But that's not how Bryan Weiner, CEO of 360i, chooses to view the opportunities presented to agencies during what he refers to as the golden age of the agency.

"It's time to leave the pessimism behind. This represents an unprecedented opportunity for agencies to become indispensable marketing partners," said Weiner in his Agency of the Future address at last week's IAB Ecosystem conference in Carlsbad, Calif. 

So what's holding agencies back from reaching their true potential? For starters, Weiner explained that the industry needs to get better at keeping up with customer and technology demands; yet, the current agency structure hasn't evolved at pace with media innovations, which makes it difficult for even the most innovative of marketers to push new ideas through. "The advertising holding company structure hasn't changed; it's still a television-centric advertising model," he said. This leaves marketers with two sub-optimal choices -- work with traditional agencies that don't necessarily have the necessary skills to deliver on digital campaigns, or work with a plethora of specialized agencies, which is difficult to coordinate and align across multiple platforms and projects. 

Beyond the internal factors are challenges coming from the audience itself. As we all know by now, consumers have taken over the direction of brand communications on many platforms. On top of that, the media platforms themselves have also changed in both form and function, fragmenting more and more as new media come onto the scene. These behavioral and technology shifts are causing a dire need for innovation; yet, as Weiner points out, the system wasn't built to be adaptable. "The interactive agency model disincentivizes greatness and fails to penalize mediocrity," he says.
 
Yet the fact remains: Advertising is about getting consumers to be product and service advocates. To be able to do that today, agencies need to find innovative solutions, and do so at reasonable prices.
 
To illustrate the need for affordable, consumer-centric innovation, Weiner related the example of "Amanda," who was shopping in a Barnes & Noble store. Amanda found a book she wanted, but before purchasing it, she took a look at a shopping comparison app on her iPhone. After finding a better price online, Amanda purchased the book from Amazon.com through the app while she was still standing in Barnes & Noble.
 
"This is happening increasingly every day. Consumers have near perfect access to product and price information," Weiner explained. "There now needs to be a value exchange between consumers and brands through advertising. Think about how your property can serve as a conduit for deeper interactions between brands and consumers; otherwise you just become an interesting way to interrupt them."
 
A view of the future agency
As Weiner sees it, the model for the agency of the future doesn't exist yet, but marketers can help create it in their own environments by focusing all their efforts toward meeting client needs. In turn, all business will need to play their part in allowing new digital technologies to take center stage in all strategic endeavors. Digital would be front and center, though there wouldn't necessarily be a bias toward it. "The new agency would need to have traditional buy and plan capabilities, but these don't have to be the centerpiece of every campaign," he said. "As agencies we should be focused on providing value and staying true to our special sauce, by asking what our clients need today, and determining what we need to do to provide it. What we do for brands is too core to the brand's future to remain on the periphery for much longer."
 
In reorganizing priorities to create this agency of the future, a few core capabilities will emerge:

  1. Agencies must excel in using the internet as the world's largest focus group/research tool.

  2. Search, social, and mobile must be integrated into every agency's DNA.

  3. Agencies need to be platform agnostic, and brands provide the freedom for us to do so.

How to get started
Weiner outlined three communication behaviors that are vital to refocus all agencies on the goals at hand:

  1. The best defense is a good offense. Today, individuals have power over shaping brand perception, and these brand reputations are being affected for the long term -- not just short term. Marketers need to embrace strategies that touch consumers where they are and in an ongoing way. "A brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room."

  2. Build committed relationships; not one-night stands. Continuous conversations must trump one-time brand campaigns. Establishing an emotional bond is critical for success.

  3. The agency of the future needs the client of the future. The siloed model just doesn't work anymore. If marketers want to rapidly and radically impact change in the marketing ecosystem, it starts with how you allocate dollars. "Marketers can force this change with their pocketbooks."

Being a winner in today's marketing space will require innovation. Regardless of how intimidating that can seem, the penalties for not being flexible and opportunistic might be severe. Weiner motivates his team to constantly innovate by reminding them of the famous quote from General Eric Shinseki, (former) chief of staff of the U.S. Army: "If you don't like change, you will like irrelevance even less."

Jodi Harris is senior editor at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow Jodi at @Joderama. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

 

Comments

Robyn Federman
Robyn Federman March 10, 2010 at 1:50 PM

It's more than just touching consumers wherever they are, though that's certainly a huge part of it. You have to develop an understanding of the consumer that goes beyond the data, a 3D view that gets to the heart and soul of your customer. You need hardcore analytics and a measurement mindset. Without all of them, you can't produce actionable insights that optimize business outcomes across all channels. Digital is critical, but most digital shops report vs. analyze. General agencies usually can't link channels and strategies. Direct agencies have the right DNA but they often lack digital expertise. The best shops are not only recasting their net, they're restructuring internally to eliminate silos and get everybody, from analysts to CDs, focused on one thing: improving business outcomes.

Tim Bottiglieri
Tim Bottiglieri March 8, 2010 at 2:35 PM

pinpoint accuracy... last paragraph says it all...innovate, original ideas, no more incorporating formats from history... reasonable, affordable...than do it in-house...deep discounts are found everywhere,price is the motivating factor...specialized only exists in medicine, and even their, we look for alternatives...diets / generic/ etc...asking what our clients need! to late than...we shouldn't have to ask...some one will have beat you to the punch.

Phil Darby
Phil Darby March 4, 2010 at 4:35 PM

I agree with Roger. The model for the agency of the future is well established now. I started my Full Effect Company twenty years ago and today it exactly matches the needs of today's clients.

We focus on "integrated marketing" and don't, as so many who use the term do, limit our horizons to "integrated communications" and call it "marketing" - that's just sellotape marketing.

We place the brand at the centre of the organisation, adapting core communications skills to build powerful brand communities, comprising lasting customer relationships that massively improve efficiency, which is the single thing that separtates commercial success and failure.

We are not only media neutral, but address all the issues that influence the success of an organsation in a single end-to end strategy because that's the only sensible way to work. Traditional structures and practices can't do this.

We have a defined way of working that is nothing like any agency I have come across and a network of independenmt experts covering the total range of marketing (not only marketing communications because that just doesn't work) disciplines who come together in infinite permutations to deliver the appropriate formula. Traditional agency structures can't do this and are forced to deliver compromised solutions.

Even from this modest sample, it seems that I am not the only one to have cracked this, althougfh I am probably one of the early movers and today I advise agencies around the world as they develop their own models and take them to market. The millions of dollars in incremental billings that my agency clients have won as a result are testament to Full Effect Marketing and the undoubted opportunities that are emerging in the new world economy. So on that score at least Brian Weiner is right.

Adam Kleinberg
Adam Kleinberg March 4, 2010 at 4:32 PM

The future is right now. Agencies need to be creating business building ideas, not just advertising ideas. They need to be developing brand experiences, not just producing ads.

Your contention that agencies of the future need clients of the future is right on. Clients should realize that we live in a collaborative economy. They should look to innovation partners (maybe we shouldn't call them agencies) to help them continue to differentiate and thrive.

Too much focus is on "measurable" roi today creating a environment where procurement departments squeeze the value great agencies can provide and driving them toward commoditized status.

Roger Hurni
Roger Hurni March 4, 2010 at 12:15 PM

Overall, a pretty great article. I would disagree with the "agency of the future" isn't here yet comment however. I don't mean to come across cocky but Off Madison Ave and a few others I know of do exactly what you spell out a an agency of the future will be. The problem as you've pointed out is there aren't many clients of the future that view their marketing from those perspectives. It's tough to be a head of the curve.

-Roger Hurni
www.offmadisonave.com

Scott Shuford
Scott Shuford March 4, 2010 at 11:55 AM

Great points Jodi. :) Having founded one of the leading West Coast web agencies 10 years ago, and then making the shift to becoming a media group "with benefits" in the form of going beyond media to serve our clients with social media services, merchandise development, online commerce/fulfillment and more, we have let our media group's advertisers tell us what they need help with. We're not an ad agency. We've become more than a media group.

Thanks for the article,

Scott A. Shuford, Principal
949-429-1000

FrontGate Media
http://www.FrontGateMedia.com

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Dennis Franczak
Dennis Franczak March 4, 2010 at 11:03 AM

Great article Jodi..couldn't agree more..as someone who owns an agency of the future(www.fuseideas.com), I think you addressed all the key points..well done.