In the Economist a couple weeks ago, Marc Pritchard of P&G described the current advertising business operation as “archaic.” He clarified his remarks at the 4A’s Accelerate conference to note that both the client and the agency are culpable in that description, but the fact remains that much of the press around our category portend doom and gloom.
As agencies, we were struggling through the first wave of the digital age and have now fully pivoted to deserve the role of trusted companion as clients seek to transform their businesses. Independent agencies are getting results. Business success is the love child of brilliant creative thinking and nimble execution.
I had the opportunity to spend time with half a dozen agencies at Accelerate that scoff at that the “archaic” description and have built the agency that clients need today. They have figured it out and have one thing in common: They agree they haven’t figured it out. That is to say, while they have re-engineered their models in innovative ways, they don’t rest. This is group of brilliant, creative thinkers who are in tune with what business transformation looks like and are ready to recast their agency as the market demands. All are completely different in their structure, operation and client portfolio, but they have a few other things in common that are affirming for us and should be noted.
Driving impact and outcomes
A creative idea is important, but it only can be precious if it delivers on a business outcome. Clients are in need now more than ever for ideas that can transform their business. We don’t believe in partnering with a new client unless we agree on measurable business outcomes from our relationships. And a focus on business outcomes helps to keep clients for the long haul. For instance, McGarrah Jessee boasts an average client tenure of nine years, a testament to why it’s imperative to always focus on ROI.
The best thing about agencies today is their ability to move at the speed of business. There are ideas that gel in the morning and are shot, edited and delivered into the marketplace that night. In order for this to work, agencies must have processes in place to scale up or down based on client needs and demands.
The best creative today is earning its place in the hearts and minds of the consumer. It’s work that is culturally relevant, emotionally compelling and can sit proudly next to any of the bigger agencies anywhere on the planet. The VIA Agency’s “Enough Said” campaign for 1800 Tequila and Eleven’s Lyft campaign “A Ride for Every Reason” are memorable and impactful.
Agencies today are well-versed and experienced in every capability, including digital, media, DR, PR and social. There is little need for any client who spends under $20 million in advertising to have multiple agencies anymore.
Lead with culture
The only way to compete with the salaries of holding companies and big tech is to create the kind of environment where people love (not just like) to come to work every day. Laughlin Constable is doing this well; the agency always puts culture first as a way to retain and inspire the best talent.
Where is the most innovative advertising being done? First off, it is hardly advertising. The great agencies of the day are spending very little time making ads anymore. These folks deeply understand the consumer and are creating experiences that connect them with brands in ways that inspire and enhance their lives, whether that is an engagement with Habitat, a new app, a public art installation or a compelling social amplification. Anything and everything is on the table.