As the recently appointed board chair of the 4As, I had the opportunity to open and emcee the second day of the 4As Accelerate conference in Miami last week. Attendance and interest were good. The content was strong. The themes that emerged apply to every agency, from holding company brands to third-generation independents.
You may ask why a 100+-year-old organization is still a relevant partner to our industry. The 4As has an important role in this shifting landscape: advocating on behalf of its members with lobbying work in Washington, D.C.; helping to identify and advocate best practices in the industry, like transparency in media transactions; providing advice on how to structure teams profitably in an increasingly project-oriented environment or how to develop mutually rewarding compensation agreements.
As we continue to redefine our own businesses, there were several lessons that came to the surface at Accelerate that are worth considering in order to maintain relevance and survival:
There’s no looking back and longing for the past
We will survive if we continue to redefine what we do and how we do it. To paraphrase Ken Auletta, who, at Accelerate, previewed his new book on the industry (Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business and Everything Else): “If you’re just cutting costs and dealing with procurement, you’re missing the point.” Only by experimenting and operating at a far more rapid pace will we continue to thrive in this business.
Collaboration is key
Your competition is now your collaborator. Whether it’s to expand your competencies or embrace your client’s other partners, it’s critical to open up the sandbox and collaboratively build on each other’s ideas to create better solutions. With multiple roster agencies often the norm, we must identify complementary skills, like creative agencies partnering to deliver social content, customer experiences and TV spots. Or smaller independent agencies supporting start-ups to deliver unique insights and services.
If we intentionally disrupt our own staffing structures and processes, we can increase our value to our clients. If we intentionally redefine what we make, for whom, and what talent we need to create those solutions, we can increase our relevance and value to a whole new group of clients.
Your talent must reflect society, but it’s not just about the numbers. If you haven’t noticed, we’re in the midst of a revolution. Historically, our industry has been woefully behind. It’s time to change that by changing our hiring practices at all levels, our culture and our ingrained behaviors. And if talent is your most important asset, then training, like the on-demand 4As Learning Academy, is critical. Or the just-launched Enlightened Workplace Certification program to help you understand the critical changes required in workplace culture.
Finally, the irreplaceable component to ensure an agency’s continued and sustained relevance is creativity. Creativity cannot be brought in-house with long-term success. Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G, opened the conference by emphasizing creativity as an agency’s lasting point of difference. Creativity tells a compelling story. Creativity looks at data in a fresh way to gain new insight. A creative media solution invites, rather than intrudes. Creativity lets you dream of new things to be made: things that make life more fun, or a bit easier. Creativity can help provide a potential path for someone who has an abundance of talent, and is looking for the right career to express it.
At the 4As, we’ve stopped talking about the “agency of tomorrow.” We’re working to address what’s required of today’s agency. Assess what you have to offer: your agency positioning, talent and services. Identify how you will effectively compete in the very near future and embark on a deliberate plan to evolve what you have today into that new offering. The future of our industry is still bright. It’s up to each of us to define it.