The agency of the future

With the media landscape evolving rapidly, what will agencies look like in 20 years’ time? Advertising industry heavyweights gaze into their crystal balls and share their prophesies

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  September 25, 2005

The agency of the future|~|jonesy200.jpg|~|Saatchi & Saatchi... Ed Jones|~|Ed Jones, regional creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi, Dubai The best way to predict the future is to invent it yourself. This is what agencies have to do to prosper in the future. We know that clients are largely disillusioned by the mass market — it’s a mess market. We know that the attention economy is drowning out most messages, but that shouting even louder is distinctly not engaging for consumers. We know that consumers are not happy most of the time, even though they now control the destinies of everybody in our own and our clients’ businesses. We know that brands have become blands and that most advertising is ignored because 98 per cent of it is crap. The consumer won’t take it any more. They’ve whizzed through the information age and said: “I’m here — in the age of the idea. Stimulate me, surprise me, intrigue me, involve me but, whatever you do, don’t bore me.” They’re not the least bit interested in conversations about media delivery, content, clutter, context and convergence. Why should they be? Anyone who tries to predict the media landscape of 20 years in the future is a fool. But the power of big Ideas never changes. They always make the big difference, irrespective of media, whether printed, broadcast, spammed or viralled. So, advertising agencies must transform themselves into ideas companies, in structure, practice and action. Big Ideas will always transform the ways people work and play, passionately utilising mystery, sensuality and intimacy to create limitless emotional bonds with people. These ideas will work everywhere, especially in sight, sound and motion (SiSoMo), and will be built with the world’s only limitless natural resource, creativity, and crafted by people with inspirational spirits, passionate minds and true hearts. And what will agencies of the future look like physically? Like three boats moored beside a palm-fringed beach, of course.||**||The agency of the future|~|martinsorrell200.jpg|~|WPP... Sir Martin Sorrell|~|Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive, WPP The agency of the future will be confident in its ability to answer two absolutely basic questions for its clients. First, how much money should they spend on marketing? Second, through which mix of channels can it most rewardingly be spent? It will not rush thoughtlessly into traditional media or conventional creative executions. It will offer strategies that transcend disciplines; it will be a portal for many talents. It will have commercially valuable advice to offer not just on communications, but also on product formulation, acquisitions, pricing and distribution. Where the necessary talents do not exist under a single roof, the agency may create a virtual company for the benefit of each client. It will focus on the ends and ignore the means. Our business will increasingly be outside traditional advertising – in information insight and market research; in public relations and public affairs; in branding and ID; in specialist communications. Currently, the ratio of advertising to other work at WPP is about 50:50. Within ten years, two-thirds of our work will be outside advertising. The agency of the future will reclaim upstream marketing consultancy work by delivering a seamless service; one that starts with the most fundamental of market analysis and ends with the finished creative artefacts. No other form of consultancy will have the spread of talent that such an all-embracing capability demands. Media planning and buying will become more complex – good news for our industry. The more alternatives there are for our clients, the more they will rely on their media agencies. The agency of the future will be expert at evaluating and justifying the solutions it offers clients. The interactive media lend themselves to quantitative evaluation better than the traditional, but that approach will apply across the board. Clients have always looked for evaluation systems – standards by which they can measure our work. What is new is the greater power and scope of interactivity. The successful advertising agency of the future will embrace these technological advantages and use them creatively to their clients’ advantage. The big agency of the future will be brilliant at sharing knowledge. Collaboration is anathema to many in our industry; they put their arms around every task to prove they are indispensable. Like our clients, we must develop economies of knowledge – not just economies of scale. All this requires the best people. The advertising agency of the future will consistently recruit the brightest and most talented from the greatest universities and business schools. The big agency of the future may not even be an agency. There will be global clients whose geographical spread and multidisciplinary demands can be met professionally only through the creation of tailor-made teams of specialist agencies working together under parent company leadership. This century will see advertising growing faster outside the US than inside. Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East will be at the forefront. Half the world’s population is currently in Asia; it will be two-thirds by 2014. But this is not to say that marketing communications will become uniformly globalised. People will never buy the same things everywhere in the same way. Most of our business will remain determined by local taste. Reassuringly, local management will be crucial to the advertising agency of the future. Given the continuing rise in disposable income, production over capacity in sector after sector, and the increasing need for brands to differentiate themselves through intangible characteristics, the underlying demand for our services can only strengthen. If we respond to these invigorating imperatives for change, we will prosper. If we ignore them, they will cease to be opportunities and become threats.||**||The agency of the future|~|jeffrey200.jpg|~|JWT... Bob Jeffrey|~|Bob Jeffrey, worldwide chairman and chief executive, JWT If today’s world has five million people opting to view Live 8 on the web rather than on the commercial-saturated and commentary-laden MTV, if it has Nickelodeon launching a service that makes full-length programmes available online at any time of the day, if it has virtual social networks moving from the internet to mobile phones, you can only imagine the endless, exciting possibilities of tomorrow. Technological advances are enabling people to consume the media they want, when they want, where they want and how they want. That kind of control will increase ten-fold with the maturation of digital convergence, which will further blur the lines between TV, the internet, mobile phones, music players and devices yet to be dreamed up. Throughout all these warp-speed changes, two constants will remain: the power of storytelling and the brand experience. What we will have to do then is marry these age-old traditions with the new-age reality of consumer control. We will have to hardwire our agencies to create, share and manage stories and brand experiences in a manner that involves and engages, rather than interrupts or alienates. One way to achieve this goal is by simplifying structure. I foresee the agency of the future consisting of three groups: creators, producers and architects. The creators will develop big ideas that manifest themselves in stories and brand experiences. The producers will bring those stories and experiences to life however they are imagined – on the web, in-store, through packaging, etc. The architects will be in charge of context, helping to define and manage how, where and to whom the stories are told. No matter how much we want to drive the ending, however, increasingly we will have to relinquish control to the consumer. Technology is having a democratising effect on communications and soon consumers will no longer tolerate a torrent of top-down messages. Sure, there is risk involved, but look at the potential reward: consumers spending time shaping a brand’s story. If that story turns out to be great, it will be considered time well spent by everyone involved. ||**||The agency of the future|~|bainsfair200.jpg|~|TBWA... Paul Bainsfair|~|Paul Bainsfair,president of Europe, TBWA As I gaze out of my office window, looming large just across the road is my alma mater, Saatchi & Saatchi. It dawns on me that I have come about 20 yards in 20 years. This is not unlike our industry. Despite preaching change and innovation to our clients, our own structures and processes haven’t really changed since the creation of planning in the 70s. Perhaps unsurprising, when you consider that we are one of the few industries to spend zilch on research and development. We research the future on our clients’ behalf, but not our own. Yet our industry has never faced so many challenges: technology is now mission-critical; media proliferation abounds; procurement has got our margins by the balls and some clients are making deals directly with Hollywood. We must reposition, or shrink. Much like the American railway companies of the early 20th century, who believed aeroplanes were just rich men’s playthings. They didn’t see the future of mass air travel and they paid the price. We should reposition as “big idea” agencies, rather than advertising agencies. What we do better than anyone is produce big ideas that transform businesses. Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” This will never change. We will reconfigure our business model so we can charge accurately for the results that we deliver. So, in 20 years, I doubt my peers will be sitting too far from where I am now, but they will have escaped from advertising’s shrinking ghetto. They will live in a far better place, where they can concentrate on the big idea, be the masters of all consumer connections and get paid justly for the difference their ideas make.||**||The agency of the future|~|Sutherland200.jpg|~|Sutherland... OgilvyOne Worldwide|~|Rory Sutherland,vice-chairman, OgilvyOne Worldwide I don’t spend much time spotting trends in the agency business, preferring to study continental drift and plate tectonics, where the pace of change is so much racier and more exciting. But here goes anyway. With the consumer as king and master of their own media consumption, brand communications are left with three possible roles – court jester, courtesan or courtier. Be very entertaining, be very sexy or be very, very useful. Otherwise, be ignored. Three marketing services titans will continue to extend their world domination. I don’t mean the agency supergroups, I mean Yahoo!, Google and eBay. Ogilvy will move its headquarters to Shanghai – though, largely for culinary reasons, my own department will operate out of Bangalore. The targeting, testing and measurement of advertising campaigns will use the methodologies of direct marketing. Not altogether a good thing, as it will lead to an obsession with efficiency at the expense of effectiveness. Marketers will be 90 per cent female, likewise agency staff. The new Berliner-format Campaign will resort to hiring male journalists in a bid to recreate the sexual chemistry of past years. The full-service agency will return. We now know that the separation of media and creative, while the biggest event of the past 20 years, was not the most far-sighted. With the divide between media and content blurring, the two disciplines try to get back together. The marriage works out royally – ie. you have a patronising old-world snob hitched to a young paranoiac. Demographics will finally die. Targeting of messages will be much more about context – “when” and “how” rather than “who”. Online media consumption will account for 77 per cent of overall media consumption – and receive 8.3 per cent of all media expenditure. This will ensure that online media owners still buy plenty of tickets to the next Rugby World Cup. Sir Martin Sorrell will drop his BlackBerry in the street and, for three joyous months, control of WPP will pass to a Mayfair wino.||**||The agency of the future|~|SteveKing200.jpg|~|King... ZenithOptimedia|~|Steve King,worldwide chief executive, ZenithOptimedia Anyone employed in advertising who is hoping that the coming years will be less disruptive than the recent past is going to be disappointed. While the future becomes increasingly unpredictable, of one thing I am absolutely certain: the next ten years (never mind the next 20) will provide greater upheaval than the previous two decades. Within this relatively short timeframe, advertising’s traditional job of providing mass communication messages to engaged, receptive and largely appreciative consumers will seem like a faraway dream. The single greatest change will be the impact that technology has on every facet of our business – the messages, the media, the consumers, the research and the results. As for any sceptics on this, please talk to an average teenager (particularly those living in a household with Sky+); their media network is already composed of the internet, chatrooms, interactive TV, SMS messaging and iPods. Not much space for traditional media in their world. Consumers will become their own editors and will be empowered as to what messages they receive. All media will be digital, global and on demand, including most newspapers and magazines. Agencies will start to resemble management consultancies, focusing on helping clients grow their businesses. The neat demarcations between disciplines will quickly become blurred. Advertising, promotions, direct, in-store and viral will give way to marketing, period. There will be marketing agencies and marketing artists. The marketing agencies will look like today’s investment banks, with asset allocation, tools and experts, measurement and research teams and links to a plethora of in-house and out-of-house vehicles. They will be evaluated and paid on measurable performance metrics that are predominantly outcome based. The marketing artists will be more right-brain and create engaging experiences (holographic, in-store, 3-D online, etc), rather than simple ads. The new currency will become “attention rights”, where consumers are paid in some form for their attention. Teenagers’ mobile phones could, for example, be paid for by companies in return for receipt and receptivity of messaging. This will raise the cost of reaching people and so more and more marketers will develop highly relevant, closely honed and targeted messages that are measured on outcomes to justify the cost of getting people’s attention. What won’t disappear is the necessity of understanding a brand’s essence. The role of the planner will become more critical, as we need to understand the consumer’s interaction with a brand better so more effective personalised messages can be delivered. So what should agencies be doing to prepare for the change? First, generate profits by doing what clients want today, in order to be able to invest to stay in business tomorrow. Essential to this will be the need to reduce the cost of the commodity part of our business in order to be able to develop better skills and technologies that can be applied to exploit the new opportunities. The talent we employ will need to evolve. We will need to recruit a new type of executive, define the roles they will play and train them accordingly. All of this change will be unsettling, uncomfortable, costly, challenging and exciting. As someone much wiser than me once said: “Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.”||**||

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