There is no new model, but a brave new world

A decade ago the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) sent a somewhat alarming missive to agencies — “invade non-traditional advertising space” or face a “shrinking business future”.

The message, contained in the IPA’s Future of Advertising and Agencies report in 2007, was a crystal-ball gaze into the challenges ahead. It was about shifting our priorities as an industry from simply delivering yet another TV campaign to positioning ourselves for the future, driven by behaviour changing technologies and experiences.

Last month, the IPA Future of Agencies study reported that only when agencies invest in new propositions, new capabilities, and
new talent, will the industry be able to secure a future that is not threatened by the ongoing pressures of commoditisation and short-termism. Plus ça change.

It would be rather unfair to say that this is due to lack of trying. The entire advertising industry is seeking to create that next new agency of the future. We all want to be disruptors after all, and we are all putting up a good fight. But that, on its own, is not good enough any more. At a time when media owners are buying agencies, such as the recent acquisition of a controlling stake by the FT in branded content company Alpha Grid, or The New York Times' acquisition of a Brooklyn-based agency Fake Love; when management consultancies see the opportunity to wade into this changing landscape and compete with the rest of the ad industry; or when big advertisers like McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble start demanding that agencies simplify processes while continuing to deliver a complex set of services, it is time to take a pause and consider what really matters.

Another new model? Why reinvent the wheel? Instead we need the courage to see beyond different agency models and dare to become enablers of bold ideas that do away with our “siloed” approach. To be able to do good with what our clients require from us. To develop people and talent, encourage diversity of thought — all designed to put together the pieces required for the marketing needs of today.

There are some exciting possibilities. For instance, at Dentsu Aegis Network we are creating mobile games that test applicants' creative-thinking and problem-solving capabilities. Most brands and businesses, for instance, cannot understand the immutability of the big and sometimes unwieldy agency structures that can stifle a best practice blend of data, technology, people and let’s never forget, creativity. For an industry trying to achieve agility and effectiveness, influence over consumers and change behaviours, we need to build an ecosystem where talent and technologies live and breathe together in order to survive the mounting tide of data, artificial intelligence and robotics.

Time therefore for clients also to learn to put their trust into agencies and foster a climate of collaboration where agencies choose to work together - and stop expecting agencies to be excellent at all things at all times, or worse, force collaboration through a client-created agency roster.

When best-in-class agencies seek each other out on the basis of mutual respect and shared beliefs, then clients who dare to trust them to collaborate effectively and provide the briefs that enable this collaboration could be the real winners. I am tantalised by the possibilities of the future. Welcome to a brave new world.

Kate Howe is Managing Director at gryo:

This article was first published in The Guardian

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