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From the Trenches

Ad Agencies Look a Lot Different in 2009

Mike Sweeney | April 27, 2009

First, let me make something clear: I am not anti-ad agency.There are some very good ones out there, some of which Right Source Marketing does business with.

I am, however, anti-ad agency when it comes to agencies that fall into the following categories:

  • Agencies that have simply not adapted to new media, and fail to acknowledge the growth and power of interactive vehicles at every turn.Thankfully, there’s not a whole lot of these left, but some are still out there and I have no idea how they’re surviving.
  • Agencies that claim that they have a new interactive department, interactive expertise, and interactive services, all led by…the same guy/gal that was fighting the idea that interactive was important a year ago.
  • The “gotta plant our flag somewhere, we’ll call ourselves an interactive agency” agencies.It would be unfair to provide a blanket profile of these types, but some typical characteristics include below-market pricing for below-market services, all with a complete lack of strategic guidance.

So what will the agency of the future look like? Sean Carton , in his recent ClickZ column , does a fantastic job of articulating what should, will, and already is happening to agencies – at least those that pay attention to what will provide clients with real value with regards to strategy and services.Here are a couple of excerpts – enjoy:

The full-service monolithic agency model worked fine in a world where there were four major broadcast networks, large-scale radio networks, and a couple daily newspapers per town. It doesn’t work when you have to deal with dozens of media channels that change on a nearly daily basis. New technologies pop up (social networking, Twitter, online video, etc.) and new skills and new thinking are needed to deal with them. Large organizations with large payrolls, hierarchical structures, and well-defined (and well-defended) areas of expertise can’t possibly hope to make any money when they have to staff themselves with a constantly expanding cast of experts to deal with new media challenges. Add to that a compensation model based on a world that’s long gone (retainers and media commissions) and the agency model we’ve all grown up with starts to look like a relic of the past. Turmoil in the industry provides proof.

So what to do? Simple: explode the idea of the monolithic agency. Get rid of the concept that only an agency that does everything can possibly create and manage large campaigns. Look for more flexible and fluid models that expand and contract as needed, bringing in new expertise when needed and ditching it when it’s not. Think distributed, not centralized. Think “collective,” not “company.”

So what’s the agency of the future going to look like? Probably a lot smaller and focused on strategy, account/project management, creative leadership (but not execution), and media strategy (but not planning and buying). Most agencies will revolve around these hubs if they’re honest with themselves. Agencies will exist to provide high-level strategic guidance that clients need in a media-chaotic environment. Agencies will expand or contract as needed or will explore radical solutions such as crowdsourcing to get work done for less money.

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About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.