Kate Howe: Agencies, why so glum?

Kate Howe is chief growth officer for Dentsu Aegis Network UK, working with the group’s portfolio of 20 agency brands to enhance their reputation and drive overall growth.

Previously, she was UK chief executive of DAN’s business-to-business agency, gyro. She joined gyro as managing director in 2014 when it was still an independent network, and led the agency through the 2016 DAN acquisition, as well as a merger with media group Interprise.

Kate’s career spans senior management roles both client and agency-side.

Agencies, why so sad?

The key theme of our time is that our valued and hard-won clients are all seeking to save money in many ways, not least of which is to invest in sophisticated and often expensive technology. Most seek to reinvest at least some of their savings in innovation and/or in more communications and media. We cannot just stand and watch and wring our hands in a collective sigh around this change. A new breed of agencies is on its way to becoming the indispensable source of support for their clients’ digital transformation.

Supporting clients on their transformation journey with seamlessly connected, best-in-class talent to mobilise around their tech stack ambitions including tech and data consulting, audience insights, in-housing, customer experience management, and effectiveness modelling is fundamentally the journey we are all on, and I couldn’t feel more optimistic about it. After a few years of being uncertain where all this digital transformation was taking us now and living in what has seemed like an agency merger and acquisition frenzy, it seems the way forward for agencies is really quite clear.

When it comes to specifying and investing in martech and data platforms, it is rarely the brand marketing teams who are driving this. Increasingly it’s the CTO or CIO in support of the chief marketing officer and that means that once it’s up and running the brand marketing teams, in the main, need help.

The recent Credos research which found that Britain’s favourability towards advertising has fallen to 25% because of bombardment and irrelevance, shows that the deployment of all this tech and the pursuit of automation is not in and of itself the answer for brands that want to be here for the long term.

It’s inevitable that brands want to own their own tech and, in a GDPR world, their first party data too. What’s exciting for agencies is the potential for a whole new era of client collaboration and partnership. Right now, anything that marketers can do for themselves they will try to do. Whether that’s in-housing their digital media buying, managing their own data and even originating their own creative ideas. The reality though, is that it is much harder than it first appears, doesn’t necessarily save as much money as might be anticipated, doesn’t necessarily yield the best outcomes, and the very best talent doesn’t always want to stay in-house for long.

By contrast, agencies still specialise in big strategic and creative ideas. We still have the ability to attract and retain the very best talent and create the most inspirational environments.

We’ve invested heavily so that we can augment client’s first-party data with our own to provide deeper insights, greater relevance and higher engagement. We can support their in-housing ambitions with our talent and our media relationships. And we already have insights and skills across every aspect of the customer journey so that we know how to join up and optimise the customer experience.

By investing in our own talent – attracting, training, incentivising, rewarding and retaining them – and organising ourselves effectively we can regain the position of being an indispensable source of inspiration for our clients.

The two key pivots for us are as follows:

Firstly, our diverse talent needs to be seamlessly connected. Clients can and increasingly will seek evidence of this as they chose which agencies to trust. Secondly, it is not just the way in which we collaborate with brands but the things we collaborate on.

So there you go. Agencies need to attract and retain the very best strategic, creative and digital talent, mobilise their diverse skillsets seamlessly, seek to collaborate and co-create with our clients bringing brilliance to the parts they cannot do themselves, and charge enough to be able to attract and retain the very best talent. Not saying this is gonna be easy. Rather than pretending we can do it alone, let’s also start a conversation as an industry that will help us co-create with our clients, respect what they can do for themselves and indeed respect ourselves enough to get paid properly for what they still need us for – for imagining a future with them.

Something we can most certainly do.

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