Everything about life in the agency world has changed and continues to change.
It’s multi-faceted change, accelerated by technology-fueled alterations to consumer behavior; the complexity of media as it becomes increasingly digital; the pressures our clients face from short-term-focused financial markets; and even the changing needs of the young people entering our business - how they want to work, their motivations and what inspires them.
It’s a good time to be a chief transformation officer, albeit a very busy one given it’s across both GroupM and WPP!
But we’re all busy aren’t we? It’s becoming tedious, even competitive answer to answer the question ‘how are you’? ‘Busy, very busy’, busier than ever…’. Take your pick. Most colleagues and friends I have in our industry are also finding themselves managing dual roles. And precious few in our business think about doing their current job the same way they have always done it. Agencies must always continue to look ahead not just to adapt to change, but also to drive it. Transformation is our shared responsibility. And we should welcome it.
Obviously, planning and buying - by necessity - is becoming more automated. These functions are already being supported by technology and augmented by artificial intelligence. Likewise, consumers are already getting very familiar with assistance from AI in the form of Alexa, Siri, Echo and Cortana; and so, the importance that brands be known and have meaning, to literally be on the ‘tip of the tongue,’ will reach a fever pitch.
And this ready availability of technology to support work that people at media agencies currently perform raises a question. Can clients forego the engagement of agency partners by in-housing the technology and talent themselves?
My view is that too frequently pundits speculating our future dwell on binary options as to how things may play out: work with agencies or in-house? The shades of grey go unrecognized.
We see things a lot more nuanced.
In fact, most clients will continue relying on partners with the understanding that specializing in media in every market in which they operate is not core to their mission. If you are a manufacturer of toothpaste or health and beauty products, what will give you the best competitive edge? Would investing in teeth whitening and anti-aging research compare favorably to furthering your competitive edge versus acquiring technology and talent to manage media? This is also not a binary consideration.
In fact, some advertisers will take direct control over some third-party Ad Tech and Mar Tech contracts but will continue to fully outsource management and operations to agencies. Others will take control of all Ad Tech and Mar Tech and in-house some of the talent required to operate it - again often out-sourced to an agency to perform this upskilling. These scenarios are most plausible in digital media, of course.
This is not new; there are corollaries to past debates about in-housing creative teams. In the U.K, our team for Newscorp, Team Pulse, sits at The Times headquarters and this works incredibly well for them as the work is often at such a fast pace. Other clients prefer not to have their agency support live with them for fear that the proximity and the distance from work for other clients at the agency headquarters makes the assigned team “go native.”
While technology is lubricating the potential for in-housing today, many clients hold the same or similar reservations. Many don’t want their media teams far from the innovation that happens in agency environments. Many also don’t want to be beholden to technology by investing in it for themselves. By letting that task fall to agencies, they retain the flexibility to adapt their configurations as their needs and the marketplace around them changes.
None of this should be confused as a protestation that things will not change or ostrich like beahviour.
On the contrary, consumer and advertising technologies are changing virtually everything about how we do what we do. It’s also changing the nature of our client relationships – how we are configured to support them, how we demonstrate the return on their investments, how we are remunerated by them and more. No two client configurations, or team are the same… nor have they have ever been.
But the complexity and the pace of change demand more from us in terms of our agility and ability to collaborate.
This summer, GroupM’s global and U.S. headquarters will relocate to 3 World Trade Center in New York. All our agencies -- Mindshare, MediaCom, Wavemaker, Essence -- as well as our programmatic specialist Xaxis and our sister company Kantar will be under one roof. Beyond the inspiring and welcoming aesthetics of our new space for our people and our visiting clients, the new home is a profound statement on the adaptive and collaborative way we are increasingly working.
There will continue to be the benefits of agency and client teams sitting together, congregating as tribes, and hot desks and collaboration spaces will support our ability to flex to the task at hand – whether it be an all-hands-on-deck pitch or the intense support of a client’s new product launch. Embracing agile and adaptive ways of working is our lifeblood.
Offering, open, accessible and fluid models to meet the needs of our clients is the job of everyone in our business.
So, regardless of title, I consider every one of my colleagues, and many friends across the industry to all be fellow transformation officers…onwards and upwards!
Lindsay Pattison is WPP’s first-ever global chief transformation officer and a regular contributor to The Drum.