The ongoing agency evolution is inextricably linked to an evolving and complex digital landscape—one that includes constant technological innovations, emerging consumer behaviors, and the volatile economic climate in which they operate. With all these moving parts, it’s no wonder that many agencies are experimenting with new growth strategies and looking for opportunities to carve out an offering that’s both unique as well as timely for the brands in their portfolio.
Exploring The Adjacent Possible
The ever-shifting landscape continues to introduce new opportunities, areas of focus, and business models to evaluate. These opportunities present choices, each of which can suggest a divergent direction. The decisions an agency makes about these prospective futures will have real and tangible repercussions. It will likely require unique processes, structure, talent mix, and even something as fundamental as company culture. However, a successful agency offering should always maintain a clear and purposeful vision. Below are a few of the competing directions agencies are debating—obviously the paths they choose have a tremendous effect on whether they are the right fit for a business or a brand.
Full Service vs. Innovation Focus
Agencies often banter around the idea of a 360-degree offering for brands. But in an age where services are constantly expanding and bleed from one type of agency to the next, where does “full-service” truly start and stop? Additionally, this path has the tendency to create a reactive environment in which big picture thinking and more innovative ideas struggle to thrive. Other agencies are focusing on delivering digital innovation. But, unless they’re just paying the word lip service (by definition innovation is disruptive), such a focus requires that the agency challenge the status quo for brands. It also requires that they manage the often uncomfortable process that a successful outcome requires.
AOR (Agency Of Record) vs. AOI (Agency Of Influence)
An AOR is a little like a “general contractor.” It manages a big pool of money and along with it the responsibility of managing a vast swath of projects, subcontractors, and—quite frankly—highly commoditized work. The price pressures that come with “buying in bulk” often require AORs to employee offshore production teams and/or lower-level talent. In order to stay relevant, most agencies are in a perpetual state of adjustment and realignment.
Alternatively, other agencies prefer to be the “general counsel” (or consigliore) by focusing on the most business critical (and most influential) projects. While there is less overall work, the highly strategic nature and senior-level talent required to deliver on initiatives and visibility with C-level stakeholders means hourly fees can increase substantially.
Marketing Communications vs. Products And Services
Simply put, there are agencies focused on “making the thing” and others focused on “marketing the thing”—and more and more, on both. In recent years, we’ve seen a great deal of overlap in the digital space when it comes to marketing and products. Today, marketers require that their campaigns continue to live on, acting as an open channel between the brand and its audience. Often this means building an application or creating a new service. Simultaneously, companies are striving to deliver products and services that are imbued with emotive benefits—that tell a story beyond their core utility.
Given that, it is possible this is less of a choice, and more of a question of philosophic approach. Don’t they say the best marketing strategy is to make a great product? Just ask our friends at Apple.
Up And To The Right
A common sentiment shared by many agency principals is their desire to move up the ladder of influence with their client-partners. But of course, this progression requires strategic services that deliver clear value to their client’s business.
Some of the most successful agencies embrace a “beta culture”—where they are always experimenting, prototyping and placing small bets to learn and build on what’s working.
One lens to determine where any agency falls along this continuum is to examine what their clients are asking them to do—and how they are responding to those requests.
A Process Of Continual Improvement
The landscape will continue to evolve, so, in order to stay relevant and thrive, most agencies are in a perpetual state of adjustment and realignment. I’d say that any agency that professes to have the perfect offering is lying or delusional. In fact, some of the most successful agencies embrace a “beta culture”—where they are always experimenting, prototyping, and placing small bets to learn and build on what’s working—both for their client’s needs as well as their own bottom line. Not a bad approach, as long as in the absence of certainty, they maintain clarity of purpose.