By Tim Williams

By Tim Williams

It’s appropriate that in the new agency ecosystem that emphasizes best-in-class providers instead of traditional “full-service” firms, today’s clients have a set of world-class expectations of their agencies.

Some of these needs are a 21st century version of long-standing agency qualities. But there’s also a new class of emerging competencies, mostly in response to a new environment for marketing organizations in which:

  1. Established categories of business are being constantly disrupted by innovative new start-ups.
  2. Marketing organizations must respond to market forces faster than ever before.
  3. Traditional marketing campaigns are clearly losing their effectiveness, requiring much more marketing invention and experimentation.
  4. The marketing function is under constant scrutiny for proof of performance and is increasing under the thumb of finance and operations.
  5. Marketers are saddled with the colossal job of central integration, overseeing and managing the efforts of a large federation of marketing services providers.
  6. Client organizations are increasingly dependent on innovation vs. cost cutting to maintain their competitive advantage.
  7. Companies struggle with legacy talent and structures that lack expertise in digital.

For agencies, these challenges not only suggest but require transformative changes to their business model, and in some cases to their very paradigm of the agency business. No longer can agencies keep up by simply learning and adding new services. Perhaps for the first time in modern marketing history, it will be more important to change our paradigm than just changing our practices.

Will your agency need new subscriptions to data resources, deeper competencies in marketing technology, and a more nimble way to get its work done? Of course. But most of the qualities that will distinguish successful agencies five years from now will spring from changed minds, not just changed structures.

The following mind map illustrates the essential areas in which agencies must think – not just operate — differently, grouped in eight areas: expertise, effectiveness, agility, pricing, collaboration, digital fitness, innovation and accountability.

At the base of this change is leadership. For much too long, agencies have viewed themselves as being in the management business (brand management, account management). Several decades of this has produced mostly reactive cultures inside agencies. The progressive agencies of the next few decades will be characterized by proactive marketing leadership. It’s clear that the great agencies in the year 2020 will not be in the service business, but rather the marketing invention business, moving way beyond “what do our clients need” to “what problems are our clients trying to solve?”