Everyone writes about the agency of the future, hypothesizing about the structure and the services they will provide, but just about everyone overlooks the fact that an agency is only as strong as the people that work there. People are what drive the relationships between clients and partners.
The agency business itself is in disarray because of three primary reasons. The first one is that agencies don't price themselves properly for the services they offer. The second reason is that agencies don't do right by their employees. They overwork their people, resulting in poorly motivated, cynical, under-trained employees who have little to no loyalty or passion for the business they are in. The third reason for agencies' problems: they have focused on execution rather than strategy (a topic for an entirely different article).
The agency of the future will create an environment that fosters creativity, breeds strategic thinking and rewards positive interactions and successful execution. In the agency of the future, everyone takes responsibility for themselves and the immediate world around them. These people are emotionally invested in the success of their clients and monetarily compensated for that success. In the agency of the future, the wealth is shared because the responsibility is shared, and the needs of all are intertwined!
If you talk to agency folks with less than 10 years of experience, they will tell you, almost 100% of the time, that the only way they'll be valued for what they're worth is to change jobs and companies. Even if they do so, most likely they'll still complain about the same old issues.
What does that say about the business? It's a well-known fact that agencies tend to pay more for outside talent than internal people. Of course, the agency business is first and foremost a business, and that's how they've chosen to deal with the business issue of attracting (but probably not retaining) talent. Instead, agencies need to take care of their most valuable asset first, their people.
The most difficult challenge that faces the agency of the future is retaining talent. If you invest time and energy in your employees, you want to know they'll be around to apply that knowledge to your business. To do so, you need to uncover their motivations and create an environment that provides them with satisfaction.
Creative people are motivated differently than media people, and account people are motivated even more differently. You need to identify what drives them and work with them to create that sense of loyalty to your brand, so they stick around for the long haul. Of course, paying them what they're worth is an important part of the equation, but I believe that people should get the upside when the business they work on does well, so compensation should be tied to performance. If you create an environment that fosters success, then who wouldn't want to participate in that success!
Of course the employee has some responsibility in this relationship as well. Employees of the future have to be passionate for their business. They have to be willing to learn. They have to be willing to multitask. They have to create boundaries and strive for some balance in their lives, or they'll burn out and fade away.
It's true that many agencies work their people to death, but in just as many cases there are examples of employees who aren't willing to work with the people around them and function as a team. Teamwork is the core of the agency of the future. Your colleagues need to know they can depend on you, and vice versa, to get the job done right.
To some, the agency of the future may be our "white whale," but I don't think so. I think the agency of the future is far more attainable than most of you are led to believe. The agency of the future is made up of the right kinds of people, with a structure that will make them a success.
So what kind of agency are you?