Agency Future - One Year On

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A very much condensed presentation of what I've learned in the last year researching the evolution of the creative agency.

Transcript of Agency Future - One Year On

Slide 1

Agency Future1I won a travel grant awarded annually by the Danish Association of Ad Agencies.

I called the project Agency Future - it would be an investigation of emerging business models in the ad industry.

I won a travel grant awarded annually by the Danish Association of Ad Agencies. I called the project Agency Future - it would be an investigation of emerging business models in the ad industry. Ill get back to the project in a second but first a bit about me2The backstoryI left journalism to become a copywriter.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

A former journalist, I seem drawn to industries beset by massive change brought about by the Internet! Although just a lowly reporter on a weekly newspaper with a small circulation, I wasnt blind to the quiet urgency exhibited by the suits in the organization. I discovered Jeff Jarvis Buzzmachine blog and I began to take an interest in the fundamental dynamics of the newspaper industry. It fascinated me that something as crude as Craigslist could decimate classified revenue, effectively pulling the rug from under the legs of the industry. I began to take a macro view.

I had always assumed that Id be in newspapers for the rest of my career, that newspapers were too big to die, and that their function was too entrenched in society to be usurped. But when Newsquest (the publishers of my newspaper) began cutting costs and replacing more and more editorial space with ad space, I could see the writing on the wall.

But then came a woman, and Denmark, and Copenhagen and no more journalism. But Ive retained that macro fascination with the waxing and waning of industries. I studied History at university, which furnished me with a greater sense of perspective, and the realisation that everything is subject to the same constant forces of transmutation.

But Agency Future what exactly was my pitch?

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I left one industry experiencing massive change and joined another.

The disruptive force of the internet was the cause in both.In essence, this: Half documentary, half social media experiment, my ultimate ambition is to produce a snapshot of an industry in flux, while also showcasing the collaborative and transformative power of the tools powering the upheavals.

When I entered the world of advertising about four years ago, I realised immediately that it was undergoing many of the same disruptive changes as the newspaper industry. It had taken a few years to catch up but advertising too was now being forced to fundamentally re-examine its practices in order to stay profitable and relevant. In ways I was only just dimly becoming aware of, the Internet was once again the dread force at work disintermediating, disrupting, destroying.

My arrival in advertising also coincided roughly with the credit crisis which in turn precipitated a huge downturn in ad spend. The fortunes of the big four networks WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and Interpublic appeared to be on the wane. In September 2009, Sir Martin Sorrell, the chairman of WPP, announced that his organisation couldnt fire people fast enough to keep up with the downturn in ads.

Digital agencies had never been sexier and seemed to promise a smarter way to connect to consumers while eschewing the production-heavy models of the big agencies. Leaner, more agile agencies began to emerge, with a proposition of making their clients money work harder.

http://www.businessinsider.com/henry-blodget-wpps-sorrell-we-cant-fire-people-fast-enough-to-keep-up-with-the-collapse-in-ads-2009-9

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The Agency Future project would symbolise this disruption.The project would represent the changes besetting the industry it would symbolise the disruptive forces that have denuded advertising agencies and media buyers of so much of their strategic advantage. Specifically it would use social media to raise awareness, and it would adopt the principles of crowdsourcing in order to tap peoples wisdom about who they thought I should speak to.

I also wanted the project to reflect the open, collaborative spirit of the internet as I understood it. I took the standpoint of a relatively inexperienced copywriter who knew little about the fundamentals of the business of advertising but would use the internet to talk to people who did.

But most importantly, I wanted the project to be a living document of the changes besetting the industry. Although I would have to present my findings after a year (the presentation you are reading now), I realised that agencies would not stop evolving and that those findings would probably be irrelevant before too long. As I write, my agency Advance has agreed that the project should continue.6

The project is a blog and the content is interviews with people shaping the future of our industry.So the project is a blog and the content is the interviews with the people shaping the changes affecting the industry (or at least reacting to them quickest):

http://www.agencyfuture.com/7+ many other guest contributors and clients

I talked to people at a diverse range of agencies trad, digital, new model. What they had in common was a determination to evolve, and to shape the future of the industry. Preserving the status quo is not an option for these agencies.8

The project is also a Twitter feed (with over 900 followers).The project is a Twitter feed with over 800 followers. Twitter has been crucial in terms of crowdsourcing ideas, and gathering suggestions as to who I should interview. Twitter has also been far more effective than email in reaching out to people, forging a connection and getting them to agree to contribute to the project.

http://twitter.com/#!/agencyfuture

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And the project is also a resource with over 100 #agencyfuture links publically viewable on Delicious.The project is also a resource with over 100 links tagged #agencyfuture and publically viewable on my Delicious:

http://www.delicious.com/Aaron78/agencyfuture

10Yes, new business models are emerging (crowdsourcing, owned IPs etc) But their emergence can be seen more as a reflection of the gradual erosion of the regular, production-heavy modelThe real change is the growing realisation that in todays world, the answer to clients problems is rarely better advertisingWhat have I learned?All the agencies I spoke to agreed that advertising had changed fundamentally and that the days in which advertisers just needed to be able to shout louder than their competitors were gone forever. Some key quotes:

Anomaly started with a few people who were essentially all marketing refugees. The core was and is creative thinking. I think a lot of us had become frustrated with the environments we were in. In my case I was in an advertising agency. One day the realisation came that we had 200 people in a building killing themselves to produce a bad short movie that wasnt going to be the answer to the clients problem. Johnny Vulkan, Anomaly

Agencies need to offer much more value to their clients than ever before but its precisely because theyre so big that theyre so slow to change. The genie is well and truly out the bottle now. You need to be able to adapt in real time, and you need to test your thinking as your producing it. Clients already want to work in a more nimble way. Peoples attention is so fragmented and clients need agencies staying on top of whats happening in a much more effective way and which are able to create something that works throughout different attention spots.- Sam Reid, Guided

Strip it down and the internet serves a basic human desire it connects us to stuff. But, it also offers us more control than ever before. So the challenge now is to create ideas that people want to connect to, ideas that enhance lives. Henry Chilcott, Antidote

11The conversation has changed from, what do we want to tell the consumer about our brand, to what does the consumer desire/need/expect from the brand?

Scott Melin CEO of Factory Design LabsFor me, this quote encapsulates the emerging dynamic of what we crudely call the ad industry.12

To quote Made By Many co-founder William Owen

The future of advertising is not advertising.

To quote Made By Many co-founder William Owen, the future of advertising is not advertising.

Broadcast is no longer first and last resort and controlled, one-way messaging is giving way to conversational marketing.The holy grail today is earned media.

For more on this, see Mr Owens superb recent presentation on the subject:

http://madebymany.com/blog/my-talk-on-future-advertising-models-at-the-apa13Over the past few years, because of a combination of Internet disintermediation, recession, and corporate blindness, the assembly line model has been obliterated -- economically, organizationally, and culturally.

Fast CompanyThis is a quote from a recent Fast Company article The Future of Advertising.

This sums up the tone of the article:

Over the past few years, because of a combination of Internet disintermediation, recession, and corporate blindness, the assembly line has been obliterated -- economically, organizationally, and culturally.

Its a must-read: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/151/mayhem-on-madison-avenue.html

But in the interests of balance, be sure to read this BusinessWeek article that appeared just a week or so later, and shows the big four holding companies in rude health, and fighting back by carefully, painfully reconfiguring their workforces to take advantage of the changing landscape.

Its also a must-read: http://www.businessweek.com/print/magazine/content/10_49/b4206074203079.htm14So what is the mindset of the agency of the future?This is not easy to condense but my highly simplistic syn