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The Brand Manager's series: The Changing Agency Landscape

In a world that is only now beginning to get to grips with the convergence of digital, the marketing agency landscape is fluctuating dramatically. How will this affect the way brands access agency services?

Agencies are working overtime in a bid to keep pace with change and inform their brands as to what is happening through both communications technology and with consumer behaviour, not least with the dawn of tablets and smartphones. Where eyeballs are moving, brands will want to follow, and agencies will need to understand that trend. We are likely to see such a shift in the coming years with innovation such as Google Glass, which despite not running adverts, will still attract a plethora of brands using creative means in order to utilise the technology on offer and promote their wares.

Microsoft UK’s chief marketing officer Phillipa Snare

“Agencies, like people, are going to become more technically savvy,” says Microsoft UK’s chief marketing officer Phillipa Snare. “With the emergence of multiple screens and multiple devices, as well as things like apps, very few people buy a device in isolation simply thinking that it is a great device. It’s also about the services that they get on top of that device.” Snare believes that marketers attempting to reach their target audience must move further away from traditional means of advertising such as out of home, TV or radio. “Over the last 10 years we’ve begun to also consider digital, mobile, social and video, lots of different opportunities. And then the service or the integrated marketing message that you build into the campaign must also be considered. Whatever it is that you’re trying to sell, that message needs to become a very authentic part of the product or service in itself.” As the agency landscape has fragmented over the last 10 years, the move towards integration meant agencies were no longer siloed into categories such as advertising, digital and search. One-stop-shops emerged offering brands everything they could possibly desire under one roof. However, as digital has grown, so has the need for experts to emerge and offer their knowledge to brands around how to best effectively advertise across differing platforms. Phil Rumbol, former head of marketing at Cadbury, who now runs his own agency 101, says he has set up with the intention of being an agency of the future, which he believes must take a more holistic view of the business opportunity and problem, the brand and the creative solution.“Agencies need to have a more holistic view and develop creativity that can be applied to the right aspects of the brand rather than a predetermined thing, ie ‘by the way, the answer is a TV ad’,” advises Rumbol.

Adam Graham, former CEO of creative agency Weapon7

Adam Graham, former CEO of creative agency Weapon7, concurs: “The whole ‘integration’ debate has come full circle now. A few years ago, ad land was convinced that the future would be full of integrated agencies who are equally adept at tech build, glossy TV, CRM and more. This may have been borne out of ignorance and arrogance. The ‘unknown-unknowns’ led some people to believe that they could do everything and this fuelled a great deal of questionable hires and ambitious claims. “We’re seeing a return to the respect for specialisms now. Luckily, most clients never bought the ‘one size fits all approach’, instead focusing their efforts on achieving integration through a better managed interagency environment. This situation has definitely improved. For many clients, there is no ‘lead agency’ any more. To achieve a truly integrated approach, clients need to look beyond campaigns and integrate platforms, content, and conversation across a much longer cycle.”Helen Normoyle, chief marketing officer for DFS highlights the emergence of mobile technology in evolving the marketing journey: “It makes it all the more important that there is a coherence and consistency in the way that a brand presents itself and how it looks and feels across all of the different media touch points. “If you look at newspaper apps for The Daily Mail or The Times, you can go have a press ad that you can engage with and will take you to another aspect of the brand – be it a TV ad or a website. What I find in working with our agencies is there’s a degree of integration, forward planning and teamwork that probably wasn’t there before. It puts even more pressure on the need to do that and do it well.

Nick Constantinou, CEO of digital agency Collective London

“A lot of agencies are probably finding that their clients want them to come together as partners with us, to sit around a table and work as a relay team, where everyone is going to pass the baton.” Meanwhile, Nick Constantinou, CEO of digital agency Collective London believes that agencies should tell brands what they need to hear and not just what they want to hear, in order to gain work. “Clients are sick of hearing about one-stop shops and integrated offerings that churn out decidedly average work in an area they possess little experience in. Yes, digital is the prime example. Brands, and the people who interact with them, deserve ideas that add real value, are beautifully crafted, and are genuinely memorable,” adds Constantinou. Digital marketing has become more intelligent and intuitive, with marketers now able to utilise much more targeted and instant marketing messages through social and search campaigns and programmatic buying, with trading desks being set up to handle realtime bidding needs. The world is moving at a speed never before seen – and it’s only going to get faster. “With any new market opportunity there springs a raft of new companies and the same has happened with real time bidding – the space has become flooded with companies looking to provide services trying to differentiate, and that has created a real headache,” reveals Joel Christie, online marketing controller for BSkyB.

Jonathan Hudson, ‎digital marketing manager for Homebase

Meanwhile, the big data challenge that has emerged as a result of the power and information being generated by these platforms has also caused marketers a major headache in terms of resource, time and understanding. Where do they start and what are they looking for when it comes to wading through the information they have access to? It seems as though almost every agency with a digital capacity now offers an analytics package of some sort, with agencies all the more capable of developing their own systems and claiming the IP. New revenue streams are opening up as a result of this software, developed with the sole purpose of offering clarity and results to brand marketers. “You need to have a balance. It’s all about having the ability to cross check their homework, so when an agency says ‘we’ve delivered these results’ you have the ability to cross check that and see how it looks in your world as well,” says Jonathan Hudson, ‎digital marketing manager for Homebase. “That way you don’t just take their word for it. You need to have the multi-view and that’s the way we look at agencies now.” The analytics packages have become expected of agencies and the services they offer, rather than a reason alone for employment, according to Hudson, who sees more skills being taken in-house by larger clients, with mini-agencies appearing internally as a result. “Within larger businesses you are finding almost internal agencies being built – so some businesses have their own SEO set up. They might still use an agency as well, but they’ll have their own expertise. With social for example, we only knew what we knew socially. Now we like to think we have lots of expertise. Unless the so-called social experts have really been involved with brands, it’s often just a lot of hot air.”

Isobel Sita-Lumsden, marketing director at media company Aol UK

Hudson predicts that clients will turn to agencies more for education and support. “We work with a mobile agency and they engage really well at board level, painting the picture as to what the business should be doing. They’re great for that sort of thing, offering strategic advice and guidance. You do need them for bread and butter as well, for example to run your paid search. You may want an agency to run your paid search for you, but on the flip side, as you learn more about it, you might feel like you want to run it yourself. “ Isobel Sita-Lumsden, marketing director at media company Aol UK, says that for her, the marketing agency landscape means the two parties working as true partners, while agencies optimise client strategies. “When planning a marketing campaign for The Huffington Post UK, I felt a ‘traditional’ campaign was no longer relevant; it’s too obvious and clumsy. What is relevant is a dynamic integrated strategy that is relentlessly analysed and optimised, meaning marketers should expect their agencies to be continually shifting focus, resource and direction accordingly. Working hand in glove in partnership with marketing agencies is essential to create the trust, support and shared vision that will facilitate this.” For marketing agencies, it is a real time of change, and an exciting one at that. As content grows and becomes a currency for brands looking to feed their online presence and attract a loyal audience, they need the creative community to be there to offer them creative ideas and business insight – no matter what the business problem or preferred platforms of activity. Agencies may have to alter and grow their offerings to remain relevant, or they may have to do exactly the opposite and concentrate on what they know and do best.“It’s our responsibility to ensure we improve their business performance through creativity, innovation and technology,” states Nick Constantinou, as he sums up his view of the future agency landscape and its purpose. “We can only create work of genuine client and consumer value if we start with a deep understanding of human behaviour. It’s not about the greatest and latest technology trend. We must first focus on how real people are living their lives – their behaviours, their pain points and their desires. If we start by understanding this, we will utilise the right technology, whether it’s emerging or not.” So there’s no doubt that technology disrupts the agency landscape, it always has. What’s more startling is the rate of change and the speed with which marketers need to keep up. In an increasingly complex multiplatform world, collaboration with the right agencies is essential for marketers to not only understand their consumers, but to reach them in ever more relevant ways.This piece was originally published as part of The Recommended Agency Register (RAR) Brand Manager's Book, released last year. A copy of the RAR Brand Manager's Bookis available for free online to client-side marketers. For more information on the Recommended Agency Register, see its newly launched website.

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