January 24, 2011 | By Tim Williams

Evolution or Revolution?  Let’s reframe the question this way: is the advertising business facing change or disruptive change?  A lot of agency professionals would agree that the business has changed more in the last five years than in the last fifty.  The change we’re experiencing is definitely of the disruptive variety.

So disruption change must be met with disruptive changes; revolution, not evolution – at least in the critical areas of the agency business model.

Recently a respected CMO for a leading package goods company had this to say about how agencies are meeting the challenge:

“Agencies are not set up to make a respectable margin, and instead of rethinking their model, they make short-term superficial cuts that only serve to exacerbate the declining sense of value they offer marketers.”

It’s human nature to try to Band-Aid a problem.  Real, deep change is difficult.  But instead of tyring to address revolutionary challenges with evolutionary solutions, it’s much more effective to redirect your time and energy working on the root of the problem, not the branches.

Here, then are examples of several leading disruptive issues agency must address and the differences between an evolutionary and revolutionary approach to addressing them:

Issue Evolutionary Revolutionary

Reacting to client requests instead of providing proactive and leadership

Recruit account managers that are better strategic thinkers and train the ones you already have

Recast account management as two separate functions: one that focuses on strategic leadership, and direction and one that focuses on integration and project management.

Lack of digital capabilities and integrated online solutions

Continue to hire digital specialists, staff a digital department and teach digital skills to the rest of the firm

Abandon the notion of a separate digital department and instead weave digital skills into the fabric of the entire agency.  Require that all associates take personal responsibility for learning the digital aspects of their respective jobs.

Agency time continually exceeds estimates and the agency “loses money” on too many jobs

Provide a better feedback loop to those doing the estimating so they can improve their accuracy on future jobs

Stop estimating altogether and start pricing.  Discontinue the practice of estimating and logging hours and instead price the work based on its value to the client.  Trade the energy invested in time collection for better upfront assignment definition, better briefs and briefings, and better scope management.

Sometimes the answer to a problem is simply “try harder.”  Better work and better service are often the result of simply recommitting to doing a better job. But some issues can only be addressed by changing your approach altogether.   Chances are the most thorny challenges facing your firm require not more effort, but more innovation.