Agencies Agency Leadership

In 2024, it’s time for specialist experiential agencies to double down

By Christine Mills, Managing Director, GPJ Australia

George P. Johnson


The Drum Network article

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December 18, 2023 | 7 min read

As the year ends, we asked marketing leaders to envisage the agency of the future. Here, GPJ’s Christine Mills looks at the future of specialist shops amid a shift towards the ‘creative partnerships’ model.

A red flower in a field of yellow flowers

Is it time for specialist agencies to double down on what makes them different? / Eric Prouzet via Unsplash

2023 brought new challenges for agencies around the world, right when we were discovering that bouncing back from the previous ‘missing years’ was not as straightforward as we’d hoped.

The first issues to address for almost every business were internal. That healthy mix of hybrid working we’d happily implemented brought shifts we’d all need to adapt to: establishing effective internal communication, finding and retaining top talent, and rebuilding agency culture (without the Friday night drinks trolley rolling around).

As we were focusing on these changes within, the world around us was experiencing massive transformation. AI rapidly rolled in to rattle the confidence of some insecure creatives; global financial pressures gave CFOs some serious panic sweats.

The upshot? The roles of agencies have also been rapidly evolving, and now the traditional agency village with its specialist teams is in question.

(Almost) everything changes

We’ve seen some major brands shift to bespoke creative partnerships in a bid to remove inefficiencies. So where does that leave the traditional agency model?

Some agencies are pivoting – exploring the new AI landscape and the role technology plays in making creativity faster and more accessible (while also nervously navigating its legal complexities). Others are focusing more on the role creativity plays in making this (slightly creepy) technology more human.

In the end, these are just exciting new ways to implement and execute. The only thing that still really matters will always be how any activity influences your client’s business performance. Leveraging tech (both old and new) to evaluate campaign performance is the most vital use case if agencies want to succeed.

Don’t fear change

Businesses are increasingly looking for agencies who can elevate their campaign approaches beyond a standard brand push via the chief marketing officer (CMO) and marketing leads. Agencies that can have bold discussions with the chief executive (CEO) and financial (CFO) officers too – on how specific marketing strategies can drive incremental business value –will rise to the top.

But that’s just step one.

From this point on, the future for agencies looks exciting - as long as you know exactly where you stand.

We’re seeing clients shift away from big, above-the-line, integrated agencies to seek united commercial agreements through new creative partnerships. This is helping them refine the marketing elements their business really needs and trim unnecessary costs from their bottom line. I believe we’ll see this continue for years to come.

As such, below-the-line experience agencies need to focus on their specialisms more than ever. Unlike the huge ‘whatever you need, we can do it’ agencies, we’re not trying to be everything to everyone.

Know what you’re good at, and do it well

At GPJ, we’re highly focused on experience marketing. We’ve been doing it for over a century.

That doesn’t mean we’re limited. As part of Project Worldwide, we also can tap into our specifically aligned sister agencies. And being specialists isn’t the only factor for success. Experience marketing activity will still only survive if, like every other ingredient in the marketing soup, we can prove demonstrable value to the bottom line. Experiences that fail to drive business goals will fall victim to budget cuts.

Understanding the power of measured results and value based on clear data is vital.

During the pandemic, we were challenged to look deeper into how digital campaign data relates to our tried-and-tested experience data. This has prompted our industry to evolve how we think about measurement, especially how the experience and content generated around and from it influences pipeline across the quarters. This has helped not only CMOs, but also CFOs and CEOs understand the larger role our experiences play in the mix.

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Tomorrow is coming. Are you ready?

As I look to the future for agencies, specialist experience marketing will continue to be one of the most important tools in the mix. I’m confident that experts in our field will always be sought after by clients.

That doesn’t mean complacency can creep in, though. Not for any agency on any side of the line. Innovation and the ability to adapt to constant global changes via retraining, relearning, and introducing new experts or partners into the mix are essential to continuously deliver real business impact. That’s why we’re always investing in this space – and I’d suggest you should be too.

Agencies Agency Leadership

Content by The Drum Network member:

George P. Johnson

George P. Johnson is the world’s leading experiential marketing agency. We power brand experiences by enabling marketers to benefit from integrated experiential...

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