So - what do the agency leaders think?
Where are they hedging their bets?
Debbi Vandeven Global Chief Creative Officer VMLY&R
Thinking about where we’ll be in 2030 is a fairly daunting task. Right now — especially with the current industry disruption that’s happening — that feels like a very long way off. Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t a few things of which I’m sure.
We will continue to find ways to create content that doesn’t disrupt — and that provides real value. We will continue to look to hire and support powerful storytellers and people who can find the emotional heart in the midst of the data and within whatever may come next.
We will continue to look for talent with the ability to find those moments to connect in spite of all the competition for attention. And we will continue to embrace those who can bring thoughtful perspectives about new channels and innovative thinking about new platforms as they come to light.
As far as where we’re investing, we’re always keeping a close eye on the horizon — and where our clients need to be headed. Regardless of where that is tomorrow, that’s the place we’ll be. Because with changing organisations and structures, a huge part of our current role — and that of the foreseeable future — is to continue to help future-fit our client partners. To guide them and to help them transform not only their brands, but their very businesses.
Chief Creative Officer,
Why do I believe in Independents more than in Networks? Basically, because of one simple thing: FREEDOM. Serviceplan turned 50 this year without ever thinking about selling the agency or taking an investor on board. As an Independent, since our inception five decades ago, we have always been 100% free to make any decision we want, and we continue retain that autonomy to this day.
For independent agencies, a decision can be made by ignoring facts and without any stakeholder pressure, even if it is irrational and hard to see any chance of success at the end of the tunnel. No matter if it involves giving honest advice to clients, even if they threaten the agency with taking away the budget, or if the decision is about following a good feeling on new areas to invest in in order to foster innovation.
I think fearlessness, resulting from a true freedom of choice, is one of the salient characteristics that an agency needs today to be successful in the future. Fearless of faults, fearless of being different, fearless about investing in ideas even when you are not sure that you even understand the business purpose – and even fearless of getting fearful someday.
As one of the biggest Independents in the world, we totally put our faith in the hands of individuals with a restless entrepreneurial spirit who are willing to take risks: independently from any expectation of applause, promotion or even profits.
As an Independent, it is way easier to follow your dream, even if times get rough and doubts arise. We should never forget that there are no statues of stakeholders to be seen in our parks. But statues of people who made brave decisions without fearing the consequences. Whether it is taking home a victory – or being forgotten forever.
People and Partnerships
Global Director of Operations, TBWA\Worldwide
As we craft our future, investing across people, integration, client relationships and global configuration is what must happen if we want to be at the forefront of disruptive strategy and creativity.
First, we must invest in our people. They are the thinkers, creators, dreamers and makers who define us. ’People’ is also where our industry is woefully behind – hence the bemoaned talent crisis. This means listening better and more often, adapting quickly and thoroughly building based on what we hear.
Next, we must get agencies out of the box they’ve often put themselves in and rapidly invest in integration. Data, tech and platforms are already table stakes; having your entire company skilled and enabled to create and use the best solutions for clients is the true differentiator. This means constant upskilling across the board, combined with hiring specialists not to be solo rock stars, but to raise the bar of everyone around them. This will build stronger creators who focus on innovative areas like voice, visual search, the evolution of immersive retail and more.
With people-enabled integration covered, we’ll further invest in client partnership, meaning working together to understand and create for end-to-end customer journeys, an increased drive for conversion and a focus on experimenting with more customised incentive-based structures. You cannot be true partners unless you have skin in the game and the shared responsibility that comes with it.
Finally, it’s important to look at structure. We’re a global company with offices around the world, something that the globalisation of products and services often requires. With that in mind, we know we can’t be just one of the top groups in the world but must also be the best local office in our key markets. Our understanding of local cultures and ability to take what a market creates and scale it quickly through our collective will be an enduring point of differentiation and an ongoing commitment for the next decade and beyond.
If we properly invest our time and resources in these areas, we’ll continue to have the opportunity to do what we all want: disruptive creativity.
Chief Growth Officer,
Agencies are at a point where we have to admit that we have a problem.
Somehow, we have led ourselves to believe that we’re not good enough. That we don’t create enough value. That we are not worthy of the C-suite’s attention, that our prices are too high and our payment terms too short. And, of course, that we are much worse than consultancies, and should, therefore, become more like them somehow.
Sure, there’s some merit to all of that – in some agencies more than others. But the biggest problem is this constant self-bashing during conferences and in trade press, which only serves to exaggerate the issue to the point of absurdity. Every new fad is proclaimed to be the killer of something, every new acquisition is the start of some worrying trend. Agencies have long been thought of as somewhat arrogant – are we now overcompensating by reducing ourselves to whiny, insecure little creatures? I don’t think that’s the way to go.
On the contrary – in the next decade, the most important thing to nurture in our employees should be self-confidence. We have to start believing in ourselves and the value we create – and we must demand to be rewarded adequately.
Instead of moaning about clients demanding free ideas, we should stop participating in their pitches. Instead of groaning about tech companies stealing talent, let’s give our people more reasons to not leave, to believe in their abilities and stop micro-managing their every single step. Investing in their professional growth – and valuing that growth – is also a good idea.
Instead of trying to outsource everything we should start building capabilities in-house. Yes, that could be more expensive, but at least we will have some unique strengths in a sea of identical competitors who “have ideas” and then all go to the same suppliers to implement them.
Instead of giving in to procurement’s absurd demands for more discounts and then trying to find ways to cut corners and save by getting kickbacks or doing a bit less than promised, isn’t it time to demand reasonable pay and communicate the benefits of our work? It shouldn’t just be about the ’best price’.
Instead of constant drama and disruption for disruption’s sake, let’s focus on what works and build on that.
Instead of quietly bitching about clients’ insane demands, now is the time to break up with any toxic relationships in our lives. Draw a line and don’t cross it. It will definitely lead to less business in the short term – but more profitable and satisfying relationships going forwards.
We’re not merely suppliers. We provide amazing value to businesses all around the world. But somehow, we tend to focus on the negatives and completely forget about our strengths. This leads to self-loathing, resentment, suffering and desperation.
No more. The next decade should be dedicated to re-finding our self-confidence and reclaiming a healthy, rational belief in ourselves and the talent that works for us. It’s time to get up, fix our hair, straighten our clothes, and go to the next date not hoping that they pick us, but knowing that we are a great catch.
It’s time to get up, dust ourselves off, and walk into that next meeting not meekly hoping to get picked but knowing with total conviction that we’re the best possible answer to the client’s problem.