Agencyland’s Little Ice Age: Will Your Agency Survive?

The Little Ice Age started in the 14th century and lasted for hundreds of years. Its effects were profound. Estimates are 30% or more of the population of Europe died because of it. It was probably caused by a volcanic eruption far away and subtle warning signs that most people didn’t recognize, like hazier days, or more dust falling from the sky. It happened slowly and in some ways many who died didn’t know what had befallen them.

It is much easier to see our industry’s Little Ice Age coming…in fact, it is probably already upon us. The business of media is changing rapidly, with automation and digitization reshaping the spend and also with whom it is spent. New technologies for consumers, social and experiential, are upending the notion and value of brand voice, rendering fertile farms of agency services fallow.

The client themselves, the CMOs and other marketers, who used to ply the black art of advertising, somehow immune to the physics of finance and accountability that dogged the rest of the C-suite, are finally being returned to the corporate fold, with discussions of ROI and technology transformation, they are becoming geniune residents of the C-suite and its executive culture.

And at the doorway of the boardroom stand the consultancies, welcoming these marketers in under the newest of management fads, Customer Experience, or CX. Those that behave well may even get a new title, CXO, and access to what looks to be the face of marketing of the future: marketing that integrates the whole enterprise, and can optimize investments across the whole of the customer experience.

The Little Ice Age is official as well, with Forrester letting all of its brand clients know that Consultancies’ approach provides an integrated solution to a fragmented agency landscape. Consultancies can do it all.

The Lions have arrived…in fact, they’ve been waiting. They are hungry for new, large scale enterprise integration projects to feed their top and bottom lines. Your marketing budget will likely be their next meal.

There will still be a need for agencies, but will your agency survive?

It depends largely upon what you do as an agency leader. In the 4A’s paper, I’ll delve into many of the choices that agencies face with this oncoming winter. We’re doing a 90-minute run-through of it on October 29th, 2018 (see image above), click here to register.

One choice is whether to “focus on Creativity.” Many claim that agencies have drifted too far away from this core principle. In reality, today our old notions of creativity are not as relevant as they once were.

Emphasizing or even specializing in creative is likely a way to ensure that your agency will continue to face commodity price pressures and increased marginalization. As I pointed out a year ago in my Ad Age op-ed, Advertising’s Real Problem is a Commoditization Crisis, getting closer to the client — which means playing in the C-Suite like a genuine corporate citizen and having your people (not just the suits) walking the halls — is a key skill that will get you through the frozen budgets and help you steer around the deadly predators within.

The 4A’s will be publishing the full whitepaper in Q4, but here are a few other key takeaways from my work:

The industry and agencies need to repair the damaged Agency-Client relationship.

  • It’s the client, and they need you. Cherish them like the consultants do.
  • Let’s lead with a vision of the CMO of the future, or even the CXO…you know that the consultancies have one, where is ours?
  • Let’s lose the stupid-client narrative — the lions know that a “stupid” client plus education equals a loyal client, a client for life. Be the teacher, be on the side of making CMOs better, not tearing them and their teams down.
  • Mend the fences with our clients around price and value. They have sicced their procurement crews on us because we focused the discussion on dollars rather than created value. Let’s learn how to talk value.

Evolve how we define marketing and the agency in the future.

The opportunity is to expand the scope of the business in the biggest way since digital.

  • Creativity must claim the mantle of Innovation. The Mad Men era is over and the new creativity is innovation — creating better results and a better customer experience.
  • Marketing is about the relationship between the brand, the products, the consumer, across all interactions. Creativity-turned-innovation must include all of these, plus the business case.
  • Advertising and creative may not be dead, but the marketing challenge has grown broader and the distinctions between digital and traditional are all but gone. Embrace CX

Enter the arena of the C-Suite.

  • The CMO no longer owns a fortress, and needs your partnership to defend marketing dollars and elevate the practice.
  • Emphasize advantages of a different culture and different thinking to the client organization. Use our natural agility, in the form of faster iteration and innovation, as a calling card. Agencies that sell with innovative process report higher client engagement.
  • Learn how to make the business case. Align to business objectives to create value-based pricing opportunities

Get ready to fight the Lions.

  • Shift your capabilities and focus. Agencies need a makeover that aligns them with marketing’s new frontiers.
  • Repair your workforce, morale and operating model. Old notions of organization structure, managing and specialization will spell the end for those who cling to them.

In the end, some will survive as “evolved agencies” — those that have transformed themselves, mastered agility and adopted a broader view of what the CMO needs. Some will end up looking a lot like consultancies.

Others, likely many others, are ill-equipped for this form of climate change. It will be a long, cold winter for them.

Jack is a former RAND senior analyst, a recovering client services executive, an Inc-500 award winning entreprepneur, and the CEO of AgencyAgile, a leading productivity training and coaching firm that helps agencies, marketers, and other complex service organizations go Better, Faster and Happier .