Agencies can only change at the speed of meritocracy

Agencies can only change at the speed of meritocracy

Another week goes by and we hear yet another very powerful client berating the agency sector. Just the other week, I read of TFL’s Chris Macleod talk about agencies not changing quick enough… ‘a meteor meets dinosaur’ moment.

This is on top of previous commentators from P&G (Marc Pritchard), Unilever (Keith Weed) and others talking about the need for new agency models, about being businesses with no guaranteed right to exist, how complexity of the agency offering was increasingly limiting, how cost based pricing was becoming less sustainable against a backdrop of client insourcing and the issues linked to transparency.

It seems to go on and on, doesn’t it?

To be really clear, I have no problem what so ever with these challenges or this feedback. It is better off out than in!

The agency sector is incredibly and ruthlessly competitive. It is very entrepreneurial and in business terms, both incredibly risky and incredibly rewarding.

As a result of this, it is also incredibly over supplied.

But regardless of the extent to which this is the case or not…even the biggest agencies are still actually only small businesses (when compared to our clients).

We are all ‘service providers’…and are all too easy to hire and fire. And as such mould, merge and purge in line with client demands.

The nature of the industry is such that it moves as fast as the clients’ money.

The more that clients celebrate, reward and reinforce what they see as valuable, whilst also, perhaps more importantly, doing the opposite for weakness and mediocrity….the more effective and well timed changes in the fabric of the agency sector will be.

I always felt that the best clients get the best work…and the best and most motivated agency teams. The best clients are clear and consistent about what their ambitions for the work are. They tell you when something is good enough and tell you when something isn’t. They provide regular feedback and time and head space.

Perhaps most importantly, they will also put personal conviction into the process when it really counts.

Some of this is linked to the nature of businesses they serve and the reliability of budgets…but perhaps the biggest single factor in my experience is the degree to which a client is both bothered about and involved in the work.

This is what motivates agency change more than anything else.

So, whilst I cannot and will not argue with the feedback from clients -­‐ feedback is feedback.

I have to say that the responsibility around both the change and the future of the agency scene has to at least be one that is shared.

Ian Millner is global chief executive at Iris. He tweets via @IanMillner

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