When someone talks about ‘traditional agency’ what comes to mind? A group of well-dressed men and women in suits flashing million-dollar smiles? Silly jingles stuck in your head? In recent times, the term has been used in a pejorative sense, often to suggest that this kind of creative organization has outlived its usefulness.
But it turns out the truth is much less dramatic. Any good traditional agency plans for a change in the business climate. They can adapt the new technologies, hire good people, and find the right industry partners with whom to work. Being prepared resource-wise has always been a competitive advantage for them. And today you’ll find many of them with full-service offerings which run the gamut from web development and social media management to full-scale in-house video and audio production.
However, the growing number of tools and resources available to anyone with an internet connection has created a massive market for low-cost content that can be easily produced by anyone with an idea. This phenomenon has led to the devaluation of traditional agencies and their creative product. But there are indications that a new prototype of the marketing agency is emerging, one that will prove more nimble and adaptable to changing times.
Both traditional and emerging agencies can replicate this model. But those who have been around for a while may still hold a significant advantage.
The Agency That’s Prepared for the Future
This New Marketing Agency thinks of itself as a business partner, not just a service provider. Naturally, this requires a different kind of entrepreneurial mindset, as it’s not just about pitching ideas to see which ones will stick, but a willingness to put skin in the game. This new agency doesn’t limit its role to being the design and copy cogs in the wheel, but it actively seeks out opportunities to orchestrate clients’ marketing from the inside out.
This approach fundamentally changes the way things are done.
Firstly, billable hours and commission-based programmatic buying are tossed in favor of flat-fee retainers and initiatives like joint ventures and shared ownership of intellectual property. The benefits from this close collaboration signal a deeper commitment both creatively and financially and liberate the marketing organization to pursue breakthrough ideas while managing costs and sharing risk.
Four specialized working groups emerge in this new setup:
1) Media & Research
The New Marketing Agency is media-agnostic and data-driven. A flat fee or revenue share model means it is no longer concerned with racking up commissions from top dollar media. But it’s dedicated entirely to ensuring that media dollars are invested in the right channel, right event, right content, reaching the right people at the right time, all the time. It leverages partnerships across the industry, doing whatever works best. And leverages the vast reserves of consumer research available through proprietary data tools or third-party tools on offer from Google, Facebook, and others. They also go beyond that, and into more agile planning models, low-cost experimental channels, and even owned media properties such as events
2) Project Management
Nothing but experience prepares you for project uncertainties, people management, resource allocation, and financial management. The new Marketing Agency’s secret superpower is its project management skills. Experienced Agencies have an unrivaled advantage in this area. They are usually well-equipped to deal with challenges that may crop up during a project because they often have a deep knowledge of the industry and the specific sectors in which they work. They are better able to anticipate and prevent any problems from arising. And they can quickly mobilize resources due to their close relationships with a wide range of suppliers and contractors. They are masters of the art and science of project management and remain the preferred choice for executing complex projects.
The New Marketing Agency must retain this core competency.
3) Design & Branding
A team of Design Leaders orchestrates the brand everywhere it appears before consumers. The design team collaborates with anyone in the industry who can bring the Big Idea to Life in Print, Sound, Video, Events, or Digital Interactive Spaces. There is also the academic rigor of understanding brands, their DNA, and how to nurture and grow them. Sound creative and technical judgment is the hallmark of this professional group.
4) Ideas & Copy
Good ideas are the main currency of any creative shop. The New Marketing Agency goes a step further by providing a team of Creative Thinkers whose skills not only include writing copy but also the ability to come up with breakthrough ideas that have commercial value. This new class of creatives understands how the elements of Design Thinking can lead the way to new products and new business models. And armed with the latest artificial intelligence tools, they can produce good ideas on a scale never before possible.
These strategic elements create “an orchestrated symphony” whose harmonious tones emphasize the importance of deep customer understanding and empathy.
They are supported by an Executive group that not only counts the beans and manages the relationship, but actively seeks out new opportunities for investment and partnership.
The benefit of working this way is that the agency helps its client accomplish 5 key things:
- Organize and orchestrate the organization’s marketing actions around the important and specific needs and desires of its customers.
- Curate and Collaborate with partners across the industry to realize BIG ideas — be they other agencies or third-party resources, large or small.
- Reduce costs by eliminating third-party markups.
- Manage vendor relationships, and avoid confusion
- Create, develop and manage groundbreaking ideas consistently.
With a new business model devoid of the vagaries of billable hours, a more freeing space emerges to come up with breakthrough ideas. The New Marketing Agency welcomes fresh talent, embraces innovation, and encourages a vibrant, competitive industry. And while this model doesn’t come without its challenges — the potential gains are too great to ignore.
Special thanks to my late colleague Andre Burnett who helped to refine my thinking on this topic. More to come.