This article was originally published by Communicate Online.
With a name like Christos Demetrios Solomi, you can easily guess that I probably have some Greek in me. Growing up in a Greek household meant reading mythology was mandatory and consequently, you develop a strong understanding of the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. For those unsure of why that is, I refer you to the story of Oedipus. “What on earth does this have to do with the advertising industry?” I hear you ask.
Seriously though, self-fulfilling prophecies.
This is what comes to mind when I read countless articles about the rise of consultancies and the negative impact on the agency or holding company model. Unfortunately, endlessly repeating an idea makes it seem as if it is widely held and, in turn, if everyone else believes it, then it must be true. You can see my point with self-fulfilling prophecies.
The best of both worlds
Despite the clouds on the horizon, I’m still optimistic about the role that agencies can and will play in helping their clients achieve growth. Rather than worrying about consultancies, we need to take an altogether more rational approach, which is to learn from them and apply these learnings to our approach and services.
Consultancies spend a fair amount of time understanding all aspects of a new client’s business. They interview staff across the organization, from the C-suite to juniors who have only just begun. They analyze everything from financial performance to operational planning to marketing. With that knowledge, they provide advice on how to solve a current or potential future threat to their client’s continued growth or indeed existence. Often at a hefty price tag, might I add. The client is usually left to implement (or not) the recommendations.
Usually, after winning a new piece of business, agencies are not given the same time to understand the totality of a client’s business but are still expected to make and execute recommendations. No time for celebrations though, there’s work to be done and campaigns to execute.
The pressure to go live leaves little room for discovery even though clients would benefit from giving agencies more time to research before plans get drafted. Adding a deeper knowledge and greater understanding of issues to our operational and executional excellence would make us even more compelling.
A future beyond ads
In these times of rapid change, the question of what is it that we do keeps coming up. Mark Zuckerberg’s answer simply was: “Senator, we run ads”. Of course, it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, that simple and we have here an opportunity to adapt and grow.
Anyone working closely with a digital pureplay company will have encountered, and possibly worked with, a growth team. More and more businesses are eschewing traditional organizational hierarchies with siloed product development, marketing, sales and analytics teams, instead setting up cross-functional teams that collaborate to drive growth.
The organizations adopting these de-siloed hierarchies are the very same ones that are replacing old stars in the Fortune 500. They are also the least likely to engage the services of traditional agencies, at least in their current incarnation. A traditional agency’s answer to a problem has too often been “ads”, when the path to incremental growth is complex, requiring a combination of tactics, weekly trial and error, data analysis, failure and learning. It looks nothing like what you would call traditional campaigns, with start and end dates. We need to adapt our approach to servicing such organizations and integrate into their hierarchies’ working methods better.
Not standing still
These external forces present agencies with an opportunity to evolve and elevate the service they offer their clients. They are the signs that point to what our future operating model looks like.
It starts with client onboarding. Like consultancies in the early stages of a new business relationship, we must spend sufficient time to understand our clients’ business first. Once we move to execution, the solutions we provide can’t and won’t always involve ads. They will include many ideas to experiment and work outside of the walls of a campaign structure. Instead of reviewing campaign performance, we will track progress against business – not vanity – metrics and celebrate a test failing to deliver results as a learning rather than something to be ashamed of.
The agency planners of the future will start by acting like consultants. When ready, they will execute, coordinate and oversee a team of specialists working on solutions covering product design, UX/UI, development, content, media and analytics. This hybrid approach, blending the best aspects of consultancy and agency, executing using a growth methodology, will be how we survive and thrive. There are so many opportunities for us to grow. So, let’s turn this self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and gloom on its head by focusing on our power to change the industry forever, as long as we’re prepared to evolve.