What the year ahead holds for agencies

Paul Bainsfair

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Lenin wrote that 100 years ago but it can easily be applied to some of the things we witnessed last year.

So as we look forward to the year ahead for advertising we can’t do so without bearing in mind the vast geo-political upheavals that have happened. And we must keep an eye on what lies ahead. With elections in Holland, Austria, France and Germany all scheduled who’s to say there aren’t more shocks and surprises coming along soon.

The IPA Bellwether Report has proved a reliable guide to the health of the industry over the years. I’m pleased to say that with marketers revising their budgets up again in Q4, the industry ends the year on a high. And although we predict a marginal decline in adspend for 2017 due to Brexit uncertainty, growth is expected once again in 2018.

Aside from slight financial fluctuations, what else will 2017 have in store?

Media will continue to get more and more complicated. Programmatic spend will grow like Topsy and advertisers will keep on asking for more transparency. The rise and rise of the media tech giants will continue and so will the questions around their measurement. There will be more of a concerted call for an audited media currency.

Given the size of Facebook can they really expect to carry on ‘marking their own homework’?

Many people don’t think so.

Big data will start to give way to quality data. The other question which won’t go away is when has an ad really and truly been seen? There will definitely be more debate on what constitutes an impression.

I’m hoping that 2017 will be the year that agencies really start to push back on the destructive race to the bottom that their clients seem hell bent on. The IPA will be in the vanguard to help meet the commercial challenges caused by this constant demand for the lowest price. For as long as it continues, everybody - the agencies and the advertisers - will be a loser. Advertisers have confused price with value and so we will continue to promote effectiveness and value over efficiency for its own sake, and to run our master classes in selling, pricing and negotiation.

Advertising itself will continue to come under scrutiny in 2017. Ironically, mostly from Brussels, which despite Brexit, will continue to influence us here for some time to come.

There is the new General Data Protection Regulation coming in in May next year and proposals for a new E-Privacy Regulation, both of which could force all businesses, not just those in our industry, to change their business models to ensure greater protection for consumer data.

Brussels are also planning potential changes to the Audio Visual Media Services Directive, which also threaten greater restrictions on advertising.

And there will be the usual pressure points in advertising, such as the traditional calls to restrict advertising of alcohol, gambling, HFSS foods and drinks to children (note the recent changes to the CAP Code) due to come take effect later this year.

The end of last year saw a lot of opinion pieces about learning from the past to shape the future, with such luminaries as John Hegarty and Jeremy Bullmore referencing the need to keep hold of our accumulated wisdom. Coincidentally the most sought after course here at the IPA was ‘The Fundamentals’ – a series of workshops set up to combat the concern that the pace of change in the industry means that too much is being lost in the wash.

So, in looking forward to what 2017 might have in store for us, my last prediction is that it will be the year that agencies look back.

Back to the treasure trove of wisdom that made us who we are. To paraphrase the Donald – it is time to “make Advertising great again”.

Paul Bainsfair is director general of the IPA

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