The leaner agency of the future

 |  By: Steve Johnson In: Trends

18 months before the pandemic, Forrester asked the question ‘What will agencies become?’ One of their conclusions was that agencies are to become leaner and more consultative. What has happened since then has only reinforced that view.

"Given the trend of taking portions of media, creative and digital marketing execution in-house, agencies will emerge more consultative, providing their clients access to high-demand, difficult to recruit creative and strategy specialists. High-concept, brand creative, media planning and strategy will remain outsourced to agencies. Daily digital marketing will migrate to clients.

"Agencies will adjust to the economics of projects and specified scopes, consequently emerging as leaner, but able to flex across lots of marketing activity."

What is meant by 'leaner'? There are two implications:

1. The agency work that might go in-house

Much of that focus has been on media buying and programmatic advertising, with a craving for better transparency and control over the data. Some creative and communications work is also being brought in-house, to reduce costs and to capitalise on the home team having a purported closer understanding of their industry issues.

Of course all is not gloom for agencies. Claudine Cheever, Global General Manager of Marketing and Advertising at Amazon, noted that agencies and clients should demand a two-way relationship built on trust: "We need agencies: we need that outside provocation and perspective to create work that is brave and bold from our agency partners. Agencies are masters at storytelling."

Ad Age wrote that external agency partners ‘offer more careful and thorough consideration over ideas that might not otherwise land well’. They quote an ANA report saying that 39% of brands believe one of the biggest challenges in-house agencies face is delivering great creative. The concern is for a risk of not hitting the spot ‘when brands don't have a connection to external perspective and provocation.’

2. Agencies working in a leaner way

Said the MD of a digital agency:

“One big reason for implementing Synergist was to avoid wasting so much time running the mechanics of the agency when we want to focus purely on clients. So, when planning our growth we went for ‘lean growth’.

“‘Lean’ doesn’t mean ‘thin.’  It means order, and making everything work optimally. No waste. No inefficiencies. If an agency has inefficiencies, it’s the client that finishes up paying for them. You need process to make it work. For example, it has helped us to automate reporting. Before Synergist we used to spend hours and hours on producing reports.”

The MD of Blue Chip Marketing, Nicky Thompson, told us:

“Year-end job bag closing used to take up to 2 months of Account Handlers time to complete and, at its peak, disrupt the smooth flowing of the office. With Synergist, we can’t even tell it is happening. Last year was done and dusted within 2 weeks – amazing!”

A UK digital agency told us:

"I can look at time in the schedule, the allocation of staff and the estimated work and ask ‘do we have enough resource to deliver this?’ If we’re consistently at capacity, it’s a good indicator that we need to look at recruitment. These reports ultimately help to drive these decisions at a senior level, as head of departments receive these reports too."

In an article in The Drum, James Gill, LinkedIn’s director of agency and channel sales EMEA, said this: “The agency model isn’t dying, but it is evolving. Clients are demanding smaller teams with client-focussed, full-service capabilities.”

The same article asked three industry experts this question: Do you think the agency of the future will be smaller, specialised, and focused? The answers could hardly be clearer:

DP: Definitely the first, can’t say of the other two.

AT: I do.

JG: In a word, yes.

It all means that agencies are going to have to make every moment count. There simply isn't going to be any time for searching for information, compiling reports, assembling data for invoices, not knowing whether some costings are up to date, or sweating over dozens of spreadsheets. Time to get serious.

We could fill pages with quotes from Synergist users talking about how their system reduces over-servicing, saves time, reduces cost overruns and increases profitability. But let's simply hear a word from a Director of a London creative agency using Synergist:

“We used to spend masses of time searching for information or pulling together reports or estimating work or doing invoices. Such a waste. Now, that’s all cleaned up. It leaves more time for client focus.”

And finally to Rebecca Frain, Managing Director of Electrical Safety UK:

“With Synergist we’ve cut out the equivalent of two administrative jobs right away.

“Before, cash flow could be horrendous. After only one month of using Synergist this has been greatly helped. The 2-3 week delay in invoicing has disappeared. It’s so much easier to get the data so we can bill it. As for me, it’s released more of my time so I can now focus on the bigger issues.

“It’s an exciting time going forward. And that’s not a phrase you might have heard me say very often before this turnaround.”