The bear trap for new agency models
In the scramble to define new ways of working, agencies are falling into the trap of concentrating too much on how things are made, not on what is made and how good it is, says Mick Mahoney, Creative Partner at Harbour London. Quality of work must be at the heart of any new model.
Last year's report from [research consultancy] Forrester featured the following line; “Agencies need a new business model that puts the client at the centre, elevates new services and blends creative entrepreneurialism with new executional prowess.”
It's hard to argue with that statement, and Covid-19 has now accelerated this need into something of a burning platform. True creative entrepreneurialism and executional prowess are in desperately short supply in our industry right now, having been sacrificed in the fight for survival over the last 10 or so years. Despite being what makes our industry truly valuable in the first place.
True creative entrepreneurialism and executional prowess are in desperately short supply in our industry right now.
All new models need creative and production driving them, or clients will find themselves sitting at the centre of not very much at all. It’s something of a concern, then, that in everyone’s haste to nail this new model they appear to be walking into the bear trap of focusing solely on the process. On how we do it, rather than what it is we do and how good it is.
Above: Creating new working models but not considering the creative output is like opening a restaurant and selling it on having a clean kitchen, says Mahoney.
Following all the recent high-profile alliances and re-orgs, I didn’t hear anyone talk about the work itself, or the quality of production, or that their new model will create a brilliant atmosphere to enable these invaluable disciplines to create world-beating work that would be a genuine business benefit to clients.
It’s like opening a restaurant and selling it on having a clean kitchen.
I only hear talk of efficiencies. That’s like opening a restaurant and selling it on having a clean kitchen. I want to be sold a culinary vision. I don’t want to know about your kitchen, I just want to know that what comes out of it is going to make me weep with joy. I want to know that your chef has the talent to create miracles in my mouth. The backroom that gets it there is their business.
I know that money is tight and getting tighter by the day, but it’s the quality of the work that is remembered long after the saving is forgotten. The creative and production agenda needs to be at the heart of the evolution of our industry. Or, frankly, we’re little more than PowerPoint decks and meeting contact-reports, neither of which have ever, to my knowledge, made anyone rush out and buy anything.
It’s the quality of the work that is remembered long after the saving is forgotten.
We have to create new models that enable us to excite, inspire and delight our clients, but, most importantly, the public. Of course, they have to be efficient, but in the service of creativity. Now, I don’t believe that there will only be one successful model, I’m sure a number will prosper as there are now so many possibilities and permutations to successful creative output. But I do believe that they will all share a belief in the power and primacy of innovative creativity and production.
Above: "I know that money is tight and getting tighter by the day, but it’s the quality of the work that is remembered long after the saving is forgotten," says Mahoney.
Broadly speaking, the advertising world is, at present, split into two halves; we have the network agencies, that have vast standing armies to cover every permutation of communications under one roof, and the specialist independent agencies that are entrepreneurial and focussed on the output, but limited in the variety of skills they can offer a modern client.
The future is in the hands of hungry independent agencies and production companies willing and able to work together.
And it’s now the norm that CMOs aggressively manage costs, that budgets and fees are routinely cut and account reviews are used to force down marketing costs, (which have grown due to the rising cost of media, content, data, technologies, and agency fees). This in turn is putting an incredible pressure on both types of agency to trim their costs. As a result, they have no option but to discount labour costs, junior-ise roles, restrict the scope of work and manage the margin through fees.
I struggle to see how the big network offerings will ever be able restructure themselves to deliver the model that clients need and Forrester suggests. But the indies can. The future is in the hands of hungry independent agencies and production companies willing and able to work together to offer the same breadth of skill sets as the networks. And because each of those skills operate as independent entities, they aren’t waiting around to be fed centrally. So, no need to restrict the scope of work or the quality of the services delivered as clients can build what they need around them, then only pay for what they use, when they use it.
I struggle to see how the big network offerings will ever be able restructure themselves to deliver the model that clients need.
It also enables the elevation of new services at a moment’s notice, blends creative entrepreneurialism with executional prowess, and creates a level of flexibility that is impossible to achieve any other way. So, just remember, next time you go to a restaurant, (hopefully very soon) ask yourself why you chose it. If it was for the spotless preparation surfaces then you deserve the very ordinary meal you are about to eat. Hope it was cheap enough to help you swallow it.