A rumor is going around marketing these days that says the agency is dead. Well, while that’s certainly not the whole story, there is some truth to it. What we can say is that the agency’s role in marketing has changed so much over the past few years that the agency, as we once knew it, is dead.
Five to 10 years ago, clients relied on agencies for tactical executions: social media management, Web site design and management, SEO/SEM, and the like. They came to an agency with “the big idea,” and it was the agency’s job to map out the best possible execution.
Fast forward to today, when the digital landscape is more complex than ever, and the agency role has become less about execution and more about that age-old big idea. “When I think about now versus a couple of years ago, there are a couple of things that stand out to me as being different,” said Rem Reynolds, general manager at AKQA. “One is, we are much more involved from a strategic perspective at the highest levels of our clients’ companies than we were before.”
Reynolds told CMO.com there has been a proportional shift in clients coming to the agency because they have large, complex problems they need to solve, largely from a customer-experience and customer-service perspective. Additionally, he said, agencies are now being brought in much earlier and on a much more consistent basis to provide perspective on how clients can handle technology challenges and make the right decisions in a complicated landscape.
David Srere, co-CEO and chief strategy officer at Siegel+Gale, argued that agencies, by and large, are more important than ever because of what’s going on competitively in the marketplace.
“From what’s happening from a technology standpoint, the disintermediation of the brand, the changing relationship between the consumer and the company, to the advent of digital and mobile—these clients need help, and I think that is the real trend,” Srere told CMO.com.
Keys To Remaining Valuable
Agencies are finding themselves in a position where they need to find new ways to remain valuable. According to Reynolds, the first step is to provide products and services to their clients that are not easily commoditized.
That could mean doing something of quality that can’t be reproduced in-house, or it can mean leaning in on expertise and technologies to distinguish yourself.
Anita Newton, VP of marketing at AdKnowledge, said that agencies should be striving to change their relationships from tactical executor to strategic partner because that is the only way to meet client needs.
“Agencies have to be smart business thinkers who happen to understand marketing,” Newton told CMO.com.
A combination of innovation, agility, and sophistication to scale is an important theme for how agencies will ultimately survive this evolution, said Chris Paradysz, CEO of PM Digital. He stressed that agencies have to invest in technologies, new marketing strategies, and media channels because clients’ business demands are growing and accelerating so quickly.
“I actually think partners are required to overinvest,” he said.
Siegel + Gale’s Srere advised agencies to define exactly what they want to be: “Don’t try to be everything to everybody. The first question is, what are you? What do you do better than anybody else? You want to establish a relationship based on authenticity and based on providing real counsel.”
AKQA’s Reynolds pointed out that the job of agencies today is to be somewhat of a future/growth hacker. They can no longer look just six to 12 months out, which is often what clients are asking about.
Winning agencies will take a longer view in terms of what types of technology changes and behavioral changes are going to be influencing the marketplace. Great agencies will be devising solutions that will allow them to handle those changes and continue to be successful.
“The core responsibility of a partner is to be a sounding board for the client, provide strategy for the client relative to their financial goals, relative to their business goals, and more specifically in the context of what's possible based on what they're currently doing and based on what's possible to do in the ever-evolving digital landscape,” Paradysz said.
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