No agency should ever have been labeled “digital”. That’s a statement from a recent Advertising Age that I happen to agree with. After all, everything is digital. They go on to clarify “digital is like electricity; it’s not a thing—it’s everything.” Digital is how we work, how we communicate, how we access and share and how we learn.

The bigger point they make is that siloed agencies and marketing firms are missing the point of integration, and it’s the brand who pays the price. Literally and figuratively. Campaigns and indeed brands, must be holistic. When they’re not, the brand loses in more than just cost inefficiencies—they lose in quality of concept. So what is the future of agencies?

agency silos

We are moving more and more toward real-time marketing, customized content and conversations with customers central to the sale. Clients need, no expect, their partner agency to be able to pivot and turn on a dime. Across the board. Across the brand. Across all channels and media. So what does that mean to the future of agencies since few have the talent and infrastructure to cover this broad landscape. And if they do, they likely fall into the category of slow and/or fragmented delivery, along with huge management issues. And while this may work fine for long-term planning and extended campaign implementation, it does not favor urgent and real-time tactics.

Ad Age also postulated a solution. Creating a model that splits agencies into timescale of engagement. They suggest three types of agency would emerge: Visionary agencies, Brand agencies and Performance agencies.

Visionary agencies would focus two years out and longer. They are futurists and technologists, and invested in improving products and services.

Brand agencies have a near-term focus, say 6 months to 2 years. They would be focused on building brands and feeding the pipeline. They regularly update value propositions and refresh brands to keep pace with the market and take advantage of storytelling to embed emotion in their advertising and marketing.

Performance agencies are just that. Focused on the immediate- and near-term, they are metrics-oriented and sales-focused. They fine tune tactics and campaigns and use the latest technology to pull performance to its peak.

Interesting concept, isn’t it? You can see how organizations could easily enlist the services of all three types of agencies at once and have them work in unison toward both sales and strategic goals, without duplicating effort or tripping over each others ‘niche’. Imagine a company who is driving toward an IPO. They need exactly these services handled simultaneously. Now consider an established organization—the visionary agency would likely research and recommend white space opportunities and brand extensions, while the other two focus on maintaining brand equity and sales for a healthy bottom line. Seems to work.

Would this type of delineation best serve our client companies? And would agencies forgo control of a brand throughout the entire 360 loyalty loop? And would marketers embrace this new structure?

As for McKnight Kurland, this is an intriguing concept, not entirely without merit. Where would we fall in this timescale continuum? It seems that our sweet spot is certainly in the latter two—Brand and Performance. The industry would certainly have to undergo a sea change to embrace this model, so I don’t believe we’ll have to decide soon. However, the idea of being able to better define our place in the marketing mix and clearly focus on the outcomes we deliver best is appealing. So we continue to walk away from the siloed nomenclature of ‘digital’ or ‘advertising’ or ‘mobile’ or ‘content’ in favor of more clearly communicating the value of our services.

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