OK -- so that's not news. What was revealing about the research was that both agencies and brands agree that agencies aren't moving fast enough or finding new ways of working with brands. To put a figure on it, just over two in three agencies, at 68%, and nearly three in four brands, at 72%, agreed that agencies are not set up to move at the speed and with the agility needed.
At the conference, the reporting from Marketing Week suggests, the general feeling was that agencies haven't moved at the speed of digital -- they are still locked in a world of producing a 30-second tv ad that is analysed over weeks. Digital needs lean, agile teams to work much more quickly, the paraphrasing of the conference surmised.
I sometimes think that while brands may have a point, they often are their own worst enemies. Anyone who has been involved in a major agency and brand will recognise some, if not all, traits that I am about to mention. The agency will do all it can to widen its scope -- to get its people to do every last piece of work that a client needs, at the cost of any smaller agency the brand has been working with. The mega agency will dominate early meetings to ensure their share of pocket rockets.
Many of the big guys will then disappear and the brand will find itself working with talented yet less experienced people who are suddenly telling them what to do with their brand. It grates on client-side executives who have been working for a brand for several years to be told what their brand means and stands for. They will also harbour a suspicion that these people are not the best execs to be briefing others about the brand and approving ideas and creative as being "on brand."
Yet very little is done. Things move slowly, frictions grow and the mega brand top guys and the mega agency top brass are nowhere to be seen, not since signing a three- or five-year deal. Those at the coal face just accept that this is the agency that they have been given, so it's the one they have to get along with.
However, things are starting to change a little. I was recently talking with a major drinks company that has taken greater steps to control the size and cost of its agency. One simple trick has been for the brand marketers to go to the agency's shiny office and pre-agree who will be there. It saves being charged massive day rates and travel expenses for a vast entourage of visiting agency execs.
I have also been talking to a major insurance firm that has struck deals with its London agency to share in the good times. It's a simple premise that took a lot of working out, but basically goals are set and when they are reached, the agency gets a bonus. Under those rules guess who gets the best service -- the insurance firm or a client who is just letting things run along?
And then there's Unilever doing its own thing, cutting down its roster, making fewer ads so budget can be stretched further and assets worked harder over the longer term.
The aforementioned drinks company predicts that agencies will begin to slim down and become more agile. A small core team will work with freelancers so they can scale up when required without such a massive monthly retainer. Agency staff will increasingly be embedded in clients too. We're already seeing that with several agencies -- particularly the newer forward thinkers who aren't fixated about huge teams brainstorming in their Soho office on a beanbag by the slot machines.
Things are changing in agencies, but for me, they will only change at the speed brands want them to when they begin to grow a spine. It's just far too easy to blame everything on the agency. If they're not being challenged, if they're being shown the improved, more agile way a brand wants to work with them, who can blame them for carrying on with a very lucrative business model?
More brands need to stop being a sulky teenager who doesn't know what they want but know it isn't this, and have a constructive dialogue.
If brands don't push the agenda for change, they cannot moan about it not being picked up with enough gusto by agencies. It's a two-way street.