Agencies must meet Marc Pritchard’s challenge or face extinction

Calls for transparency in the ad industry are getting louder with each news cycle. As the investigation into Martin Sorrell’s alleged misuse of assets highlights, the industry is under threat if the status quo continues.

P&G’s Marc Pritchard and Unilever’s Keith Weed pulled no punches in demanding what they and other brand owners want from agencies. Along with more transparency, clients want fewer project managers, an end to “the maze of complexity” and the stripping away of anything that doesn’t add to creative output.

Pritchard went even further this week by taking matters into his own hands. He has reinvented the model for himself by creating a “People First” agency, made up of talent from Publicis, WPP and Omnicom, to work on P&G’s North American fabric care brands.

It remains unclear whether larger agency groups are going to respond or whether change will be dictated to by clients. Either way, it must happen. Three major challenges exist, the first of which is scale. For years, agency groups equated bigger with better; increased headcount became a marker of success and volume of billings the basis of any league table.

There’s also the problem of structure. The silos that remain in agency groups are perpetuated by millionaire egos and a trail of ill-advised acquisitions that undermine group-wide change. Not only does this restrict attempts to deliver a truly integrated offering, but leads to unnecessary and costly duplication for clients. The bigger groups are still dominated by their ‘lead creative ad agency and matching luggage’ approach to integration. Instead, agencies must embrace a culture of working with difference – be that different mindsets, different disciplines or even, as is the case with P&G, different agencies.

The third, and perhaps biggest, challenge is the fact that the client never comes first. Being housed in stock market-listed holding groups means agencies will never be able to deliver the changes demanded of them. The number one stakeholder is the immediate-profit-seeking shareholder. This leads to short-term thinking over long-term investment and stymies the ambition of the big groups.

To deliver on what brand owners need, agencies must think bigger and more boldly than ever. All of the strides we’ve made at Unlimited are driven by our clients’ needs and these have only been possible by returning ourselves to private ownership. This has been the foundation for an evolution that has culminated in our group-wide restructuring and rebranding.

We set out to be more effective, to deliver better value for money, to be more accountable, and to ensure we’re more flexible and agile in accordance with our clients’ needs. To achieve this we’ve restructured and rebranded to truly unite creative thinking with customer insight and analytics from the inside out.

We’ve now grouped our agencies into seven disciplines to offer clients a simple, bespoke and integrated service. These are Health, Customer Engagement, Brand, Digital Transformation, B2B & Technology, CRM & Acquisition and Insight & Analytics.

The aim of our new structure and rebrand is to truly unite creative thinking with customer insight and analytics from the inside out.

We’ve also put the majority of our agencies under one roof, and introduced internal initiatives and training schemes to break down old barriers between different disciplines and encourage people to mix more.

In this way, we believe we have an agency group fit for the future, and, moving forward, we’re well-positioned to address what we already know is next on our clients’ wish lists - further investment in our understanding of data analytics, user experience, evaluation metrics and emerging technologies, all designed to enhance creative processes and improve the quality of client campaigns.

Perhaps the time has come for an agency executive to throw the challenge back and make some demands of both clients and agencies. Firstly, agencies need to face facts around what size you need to be to make the best use of ownership, resources and skills. A vast global holding company is not the answer. But clients need to also adapt by training and structuring their teams so that agency relationships are managed with the overriding aim of maximising creative output. Only then will our mutual goals be on their way to getting realised.

Tim Bonnet, is president of Unlimited Group

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