Here's Looking at You: A Glimpse Into The Agency Of The Future

What will the agency of the future look like?

While no one may have hard and fast answers, it's one topic that's bound to provoke much discussion during the 2006 OMMA Hollywood industry gathering.

In the last few years, interactive agencies have continued to shift their roles and organizational structures in response to new client demands for creativity and accountability. These shifts aren't happening at a glacial pace. Instead, they are more like a series of earthquakes shaking up the marketing landscape. Much of this has to do with the volume and variety of new marketing opportunities. Some are fads and others set trends. At the end of they day, they all present more choice.

All of this choice may seem like a positive thing. In many respects, it is. Too much choice can, however, lead to paralysis from option overload. As one example of option overload, an associate media director at one of our offices recently told me that he received 144 requests in just one week from technology partners and publishers wanting to talk about new technology and media channels for our clients. Sure, opportunities abound, but how will the agency of the future best handle the flood of new options in order to best benefit clients?

Many agencies already have a process to analyze and use new media technologies in a coordinated effort. Within Carat Fusion, for example, we have an experts program made of up individuals from our planning groups who are each assigned to analyze emerging media. We also have an "engagement architect" whose job it is to stay in touch with all of our clients about opportunities in emerging media. All in all, it's a start.

How to manage option overload is just one challenge facing the agency of the future. As we all move forward, here are some additional thoughts about what's important to consider.

The agency of the future will need to be:

1. Infused with cross-departmental thinking. Given the volume and technical know-how of new digital opportunities, agencies must reject the traditional idea that only art directors and copywriters are responsible for the creative "concept." Creativity isn't just about a headline, a picture or even interactivity anymore. Every department, from account management to creative, and from media to production, must assert its role and expertise in the creative process. They also must find ways to build in measures for accountability. In fact, I think the successful agency of the future will do away with traditional department titles and explore new ways to group people based on how best to craft creative solutions across the board. How about the blend of creative and media--Creadia? What if the general manager of an office became the office creative director?

2. Restructured to benefit the brand, not the bottom line. Agencies need to work from the idea down, rather than the bottom line up. For full-service agencies, that means rethinking how to tackle an opportunity using the power of the brand promise or product benefit, rather than the strength of an agency's individual service line or department. Clients won't win and agencies will ultimately lose when the dollar--not the idea--is king. Ask yourself how offices or departments can share resources to produce the best work without penalizing staff managers to produce strict revenue margins. The bottom line will be best managed as more robust ideas are presented to clients, and thus stronger, long-term relationships are built.

3. Built on media-agnostic planning. The dividing lines between online and traditional agencies continue to fall each day. The"us versus them" mentality needs to be replaced as media-agnostic planning truly comes to the forefront. Pure-play digital agencies will either need to invest in, or have partnerships with, "traditional" channel outlets. Digital sub-brands of larger offline shops should start educating and building partnerships with those across the hall. As traditional becomes digital, we need to establish new rules of engagement or suffer from the inevitable turf wars.

4. Open to exploring, but grounded in testing. There's never been a better time to explore new communication technologies and creative ideas. However, with freedom comes responsibility. A client once told me that if we are not in some way testing when placing a campaign, we are wasting his money. As the digital marketplace rallies around tracking and accountability, great agencies will embrace, not cringe, from the idea of test, learn and refine. They will relish the fact that they can identify how they helped moved the needle--one way or the other.

It's anyone's guess how executives will reshape the agency model--if at all. However, it should be a question at the forefront of everyone's mind as we look to organize our agencies the best way possible for future success.

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