It's 2008. The advertising agency business is definitely going to change this year.
Last week Dave Morgan wrote a great article, here in the Spin, which highlighted some of the problems facing the agency business. He very accurately summarized the issues as a combination of competencies, services, mindset, business model and talent. I'm not here to restate the obvious or rehash those issues, but I am here to inquire about the future.
After reading all the articles and editorials over the last four weeks about various groups touted as the "Agency of the Year" by various publishers, I find myself asking this question: Will 2008 see the first time that the Agency of the Year is not an agency?
Work with me here...
As it stands right now, the agency business is flawed not because agencies were designed incorrectly, but because the world has changed around them and they have not reacted accordingly. I hear about so-called revolutionary change in the agency business and I chuckle, because all it represents is a reorganization of people around the same old issues: talent and service line profitability.
The buying of media and the execution of creative have become commodities, but now the clients are aware of it. This is traditionally where agencies make the majority of their money, but that cannot remain the same. No; I see the Agency of the Year in 2008 as being the group of people that finally takes advantage of the tools that are available in the marketplace for the execution of these commodities and focuses their attention against true business marketing services. I see the Agency of the Year as the people who can combine the efficiencies of the ad exchanges, search bid management, ad-serving and the digital dashboard with traditional buying services and research tools, as well as creative tactical execution, and layer these under the strata of strategic and business-building services typically offered by consultants.
I see the Agency of the Year being something different than the agency of today. The Agency of the Year will not consist of media planners and buyers. It will consist of strategists and project management, and it will spend the majority of its time on intelligent work rather than the grunt work that is traditionally where its efforts are placed. I see that the digital technology companies could become the Agency of the Year. I even see Google could become the Agency of the Year, because the definition of an agency needs to evolve. I see the Agency of the Year not having flash developers but focusing its efforts against design and art direction. I see creative professionals intent on the development of concepts and the distribution of these concepts against vehicles and formats; the translation of concepts to units and content. I submit these ideas to the publishers for their consideration.
The definition of an agency these days is about working hard. It needs to evolve to one of working smart, not just hard. The definition of the agency needs to evolve to a true marketing services firm, not a tactical execution firm; anyone can execute. Anyone can "do," but it takes intelligence to lead. The Agency of the Year should be the best example of a company that is trying a slightly new model and making it work for its clients.
Of course, who am I to comment on this? I've helped build a number of successful interactive agencies and I've seen lots of good ideas and bad ideas. It's time for people to open up and share their ideas, because as the money continues to come into our industry, there needs to be experts to put it to good use. There will need to be intelligent generals leading the execution of tactical, commoditized application.
And if you don't believe me, go back and read Dave's article one more time. He knows what he's saying!