From small independents to integrated midsized agencies to mega global media players, everyone wants to have the most efficient, successful and innovative agency model for the future.
During the 'What is the Agency of the Future' discussion at the 4As Transformation Conference, Tamara Ingram, CEO, J. Walter Thompson Company, Carl Johnson, founding partner/global CEO, Anomaly, Elizabeth Ross, president/CEO, Periscope, and Barry Wacksman, EVP, global chief strategy officer, R/GA spoke about who's got the winning formula with moderator James Cooper of Adweek.
Holding companies enable agencies to have scale. "The talent we need is not necessarily what we have," says Ingram, adding that ultimately it is culture that defines the agency.
Client insecurities sometimes drive independent agencies to sell to holding companies.
"There is a paralyzing fear with clients," says Johnson, whose agency, Anomaly, was acquired by MDC Partners in 2011. "An urgency caused by crisis. They need to stand out to be noticed, but [still need to be] commercially realistic. These companies are gambling billions or hundreds of millions of dollars. It is not a game. There is either an appetite for change or a desperate need for change."
Several of the panelists currently at or who have worked for holding company shops express unhappiness over their restrictions.
R/GA's Wacksman cites a number of issues that are transforming agencies and forcing some to sell to bigger entities. Those issues include pricing pressure from clients and budget cutbacks, the growing in-house agency trend, and competition from consultants. There’s also the huge clout wielded by Facebook and Google which control billions of ad spending.
"What we do is drive some result," says Periscope's Ross. "It's a hard way to live in a holding company [when they are focused primarily on the bottom line]." She recently fired a client for the first time in her career, alluding to the fact that freedom means you can make decisions without worrying about the impact on corporate earnings. "If you are a commodity, you are done," adds Johnson.
Holding companies and clients continue to prioritize all things big data, though Periscope's Ross jokes that algorithms don't understand everything, especially love. Otherwise, there would be no dating apps, she says.
She suggests executives review the popular University of Washington class called "BS in the Age of Big Data," which chronicles the data overload and how it has overtaken common sense. "The syllabus is at CallingBullshit.org. Check it out. We forget we are just talking to other people."