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What agencies need for a bright future

By Ben Myall, Managing partner & co-founder

Three Whiskey


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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September 18, 2019 | 6 min read

I've worked in digital marketing for 15 years and the landscape has changed dramatically. It's hard to predict what the next 15 will bring, but here are some of the ways I think agencies can flourish in the future. It'd be great to hear your thoughts.

ICF Next look at some of the opportunities available to drive customer engagement and most importantly, customer loyalty.

Three Whiskey present the opportunities currently available for advertising agencies.

You’re probably preparing yourself to read about big data, AI and virtual reality. For me, it’s much simpler than that. For a digital agency, being at the forefront of the latest developments is a given. But what do clients really need to help them grow? In my experience, they need us to run headlong at the tough stuff.

Beyond the day to day

Back in the day, many agencies grew at an enormous pace by taking on huge volumes of work for clients, working in one channel or another doing what is now really day to day stuff. For most companies in 2019, the ability to write metadata or understand the way bids are managed isn’t what’s holding them back.

Clients need something extra

I think for clients to continue valuing their agencies, we need to help them understand what they can do themselves and pinpoint the bits where we drive most impact. For some clients we need to help increase capabilities internally; setting up models, teams and processes for bringing stuff in house. As an industry we need to embrace this. Digital marketing is not magic and if the client’s set up is right for them to own the day to day, we should help them get there as quickly as possible.

We’ve found that the harder we’ve tried to make ourselves redundant, the closer and more wide-ranging our partnerships have become. And as we equip our clients to take on more work internally, we get opportunities to support them with deeper, more complex business challenges. The fact is, when we work in the client’s interest, we build trust, and that makes for a partnership that produces great work.

Shiny tech isn’t enough

For a long time, digital agencies have been obsessed with having the best tech and in many cases they’ve built proprietary tools. This gave them a perceived edge; a thing that nobody else had. I think clients liked that and it won some pitches. But in truth, the technology available from people who make technology for a living (like Marin, Brightedge or whatever your personal favourite is) is generally the best.

We all have good tools at our disposal now, and for me, clients just don’t care about that like they used to. When it comes to tech, the art is in finding ways to make tools work together in new and innovative ways.

Our industry is also in a process of rebuilding trust with brands who’ve been burned by black box media buying; after many agencies got in the habit of positioning themselves as gatekeepers between clients and media platforms. With the reputational damage that did to the industry, now is not the time to try wowing clients with fancy tech – instead, agencies should be using all the technology at their disposal to help clients understand and solve complex problems.

Tools help us manage data and data helps us optimise outcomes. Focus on the destination not the vehicle.

Channels can’t dictate strategy

Some agencies work in one or just a few channels. That’s OK. A specialist agency can stay focused on what they do best. However, the audiences we’re looking to reach for our clients don’t work like that. I think we all have to demonstrate an understanding of the entire landscape and how the channels interplay. That way, rather than trying to answer every question with a narrow solution we can engage a client’s audience in the part of the journey that we’re focused on.

You have to play nice with other agencies

It’s clear to me that when agencies play well together, everybody wins. I’ve worked with groups of agencies that have pulled together, openly collaborated and produced amazing work. As a result, each agency has cemented their client relationship and often found ways to bring members of the group in on other opportunities.

We don’t live in a world where a single channel is the entire solution to a client’s challenge. So if clients choose to have agencies working on different channels (their prerogative, after all), the only effective way forward is to become a team – one that stringently avoids land grabbing, one-upmanship and sniping.

Marketing directors and CMOs today have more digital knowledge than ever, and a clearer vision of how channels fit together into their overall marketing blend. None of this is bad for agencies. It’s an opportunity for us to offer more value than ever before; helping clients nail day to day marketing activities and start tackling more complex – and harder hitting – digital marketing challenges.

Ben Myall, CEO USA at Three Whiskey.


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