As the industry wrestles with the reality of moving beyond traditional advertising, there can still be a healthy future for creative agencies alongside consultancies. Agencies tried to use data to side-step an inconvenient truth—that consumers don’t like and are empowered to avoid ads—rather than embrace reality.
Advertising is not dead, but agencies ought to think bigger. The Big Four firms have enjoyed a 44% growth in global revenue from consulting (only 3% growth from auditing). As long as that party continues, it’s on agencies to become a bit more like consultants. In the future, when creative and critical thinking is at a premium, perhaps things will be different. As of now, consultancies have been about removing legacy systems and installing new systems and big agencies increasingly look like one of those legacy systems.
Only 10% of advertisers rate levels of trust with their agencies as 'high' or 'very high' according to ID Comms’ Global Media Transparency Survey. It takes two to do the trust tango: the one who risks (the trustor) and the one who is trustworthy (the trustee). Each must play their role”. What is our role in the trust tango?
Reframing the role of client services
As a former client, some of the best agency people I had the pleasure of working with were all from client services. They were the very definition of creative problem-solvers, whether the problem was logistical, strategic or propositional. Client services have often been sidelined. They might be calling the shots internally, but to clients they can be seen as glorified coordinators and cost controllers. If capabilities demand domain expertise, client servicing demands industry category expertise.
Lifting operations and training
To elevate the creative potential of all agency personnel, there are two areas where agencies have long been hobbling themselves: operations and training. The latter has been something of an in-joke. That needs to change. Modern marketing is complicated. The average marketer now has to contend with 23 channels. How are agencies supposed to help clients navigate this without investing in skills and certifications? Moreover, operations isn’t just about cutting costs, it should be more akin to great B2B businesses that invest in embedded CRM to help orchestrate client relationships. Operations is a service that can connect creativity into platform experts from across marketing, media, social and experience.
Having a technology strategy
Technology expertise can no longer exist solely within that department. All agency staff need to be conversant in the advisory, delivery and support services. Creative consultancies develop strategic alliances with key vendors, from point solutions that enable creative innovation to enterprise marketing platforms that enable personalisation at scale.
Disciplining local brand management
Agencies have been hooked on the FMCG drug, but as that global marketing model has come unstuck, so too has the traditional agency model. The global-to-local model just seems to make everyone unhappy; global teams are stuck producing toolkits and local teams feel like their expertise and job satisfaction is being ignored. The new artifice of ‘brand purpose’ seems to be a curious case of self-denial that local connection builds meaning, not necessarily a higher calling. Brands build equity by fusing with the context they are sold in, and creative consultancies help to forge these cultural connections, within the big picture of the brand.
Putting agile marketing at the core
In all my time in Asia-Pacific, I have not seen one marketing team that is set-up to run agile/kanban. Its role appears to be limited to designing and building digital platform and technology-driven projects. I’m sure there are some teams out there, but they are not widespread. The idea of these two project management methodologies is to increase speed without reducing quality. It improves speed to market, but it is not short-termist.
Acknowledging that TV advertising is not dead
70% of TVs sold are smart. The distinction between digital and traditional is needless and confusing. Digital isn’t just display or programmatic, and TVs aren’t simply broadcast. If Netflix does introduce advertising, how will it make it appropriate to the platform and not upset its customer base? Could adverts even make the platform better in the way that cinema adverts used to elevate the trailers running up to a movie?
Creative consulting is about reframing the role of all agencies, not a new thing in its own right. Everyone in the agency has a valuable role to play in creative problem-solving. When people are allowed this facility they can apply the passions that they invariably have in life as creative energy in work. By democratising the process, it allows the creative department to focus where it delivers at its best; surprisingly simple answers that connect businesses (AKA brands) with culture. Agencies need to have in place the mechanisms that allow great ideas to live beyond advertising, in the way that innovative tech, gaming and studios have been able to do, to provide creative-thinking as a value-additive service to any brand.