Talking Agency Smack And The Seeds Of Real-Deal Change

Some mornings it's clear I've woken up in the bullpen of Cosmopolitan magazine, facing a cabinet of recyclable cutlines. Acerbic zingers flood the file: Why Agencies Are Utterly Clueless. Proof That Agencies Don't Know How Clueless They Are. Top 10 Reasons You Should Fire Your Agency Yesterday. Why the Agency Model is Cracked. What About an Agency That's Not Really an Agency?

Though some weeks belie it, this is not simply the lexicon of talking agency smack. These are real rumblings, by our brethren, foes, or clients. This is the voice of malaise and express desire for change that nags.

The dissonance is doubtless. But one could argue this drone leaves us swimming in the same questions, themselves becoming drowsy lingo. They are thought-starters, but what about the real path to change? I say it's personal.

Those of us who have been around long enough to have been out and back, looked the last recession in the eye and rallied for rebirth, are charged by the prospect of evolution. It feels within reach. But, we've got to get to the heart of all this talk and answer ourselves.



Now, it is true that we have models in our trunks bogging down working relationships and hindering business understanding; pricing constructs crude for the dollars they leave on the table and their skewing of objectives; that we re-organize and reposition ourselves not around the soul of what we strive to be, but other fleeting business practicalities. It makes for great copy. And, it's all true.

But, look -- there are simmering trends at a high level, and in the trenches, that mark an advance:

  1. As consumers and executives, we are embracing an evermore converged media world.
  2. Brands are integrating media to drive both brand and performance, with choices they previously did not deem so dexterous. Search comes to mind.
  3. Marketers work with content and technology, creating experiential social media and highly targeted custom programs that leverage multimedia assets. Agencies are not just in the ad business anymore.
  4. The best planners and creatives are not only developing for medium or platform, but for mindset of consumer in said medium or platform.
  5. Discovery, strategy and planning, and studio are getting together more often.

Amid the rumblings of discontent, this enlightenment persists among the most innovative groups -- and these are the seeds of change. That is, if we add some walk to all this talking.

As a believer, these are the questions I pose and aim to answer:

  • Beyond agency pedigree, battle scars, and accolades, what kind of personalities can foster core change?

  • Getting real on this rampant collaboration imperative: how do we actively stir the room to ignite and perpetuate the kind of teamwork we crave? This requires more than open office space.

  • Better than simply proclaiming "relationshipsare core," how do we spark them, thinking as expansively and deeply as possible to power creativity and business? This begs more than ditching traditional models. Tapping connector genes and expansive thinking are key to calling the bluff on "relationship-speak."

  • Can we all agree that the best agencies are better and bigger than the "buy/sell" dynamic? We must propel beyond the transactional and share the scope with the broader team.

    We all know that there has been a commoditization of what we do, that some among us are passive and there are outdated business models dragging our mojo down. But, real progress requires more than announcing that we eschew traditional business models and relationships. It means embracing change on a very personal basis.

    My new favorite read, Marshall Goldsmith's "What Got You Here Won't Get You There," extols personal willingness to change. The thought goes something like this: As one looks inward and sees "demonstrable success," it is our nature to assume that our attributes, skills and who we are, got us here. So, it must follow that those same things can get us there. But, Goldsmith asks, what if some of our so-called attributes are in fact "annoying habits" hampering further success? Things we keep doing based on what we have achieved in spite of doing them -- but perhaps not because of them?

    When I focus on the soul of that future entity to which we should and can evolve, I wonder if agency isn't just a nickname for what we were doing here, while circling -- before shedding our annoying habits, answering the questions for real, and getting on to there.

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