Agency 3.0; Ground Hog Day.

Agency History is repeating itself once again.

Ten years on from the beginning of the last global economic downturn, agency land feels once again vaguely familiar to me.

For most of the 19th / 20th Century, we had the Mad Men era of advertising and marketing agencies, or as I call them Agency 1.0. (sorry it’s the geek in me that has to give it a version number)

Then, from the early to mid-nineties, the first wave of a new era began, and so-called digital agencies were born. Then in a flash just a few years later, a chunk of those went under in the famous Dot Com Crash of 2000, mocked by the majority at the time.

Those who survived did well, booming through the naughties, transforming the agency landscape through a new range of digital creative, design and build, and marketing services.

By 2004–7 we had two types of agency firmly on the landscape:

1. The Digital Agency (Let me call them Agency 2.0)

2. The Traditional Agency, who delivered stuff mostly printed or on many of whom were playing at being digital creating microsites in flash and banner ads.

Most traditional agencies, if they are honest, struggled to integrate the two disciplines during that period, mainly due to large amounts of legacy processes in their businesses and talent who refused to embrace or understand the new word of innovation and creative led marketing and advertising.

They weren’t helped by the slow adoption of the then CMO, Marketing Director or Marketing Manager who also was not understanding the new world, and recruited or appointed the youngest person in their team to be their Digital Marketing Manager who most often would choose a digital agency for themselves to work with.

Of course, I’m generalising, exaggerating to make a point. After all, my dad said never let the truth get in the way of good story.

However those of you who remember that time, know, on the whole, I am pretty much right on my brutal description of the agency landscape through that period. Moreover, those too young to remember, please take note.

Here’s the thing by 2007 there seemed to be a real lack of inertia in traditional agencies.

These agencies were failing to invest in their people, poor approaches to training, and likewise also a real lack of agency team members investing in their own knowledge and therefore their future value. Too many people set in their ways.

I remember myself, going around training the large integrated agency that purchased my digital agency and was amazed at the lack of basic knowledge about almost everything digital and “us and them” cultures that existed between traditional and digital teams.

The phrase “digital native” was banded around a lot around during that period as people searched for a new kind of agency team members who “got digital” to come into their business and help them become a better digitally integrated centric agency. (whatever that means)

When we cast our minds back to that time, there was a two-tier agency system in play, and very soon afterwards we started to hit the downturn began in 2007 by the collapse of the USA sub-prime market and the pursuing downturn in the economy and recession of 2009.

During that time, many traditional agencies hit hard; However, it was a chance for many agencies to clear out the legacy talent which they had failed to train and the clear out the talent had not been open to embracing the change.

The majority of people who lost their jobs during that time had come from those traditional backgrounds.

The agency staff, suddenly out of work, retrained themselves (a little too late) and embraced the new digital environment and we suddenly saw an upsurge in the infamous “social media guru” and the “social media expert”.

Now, let’s forward the clock to 2017.

In 2017, we can safely say that there are no traditional digital agencies left. There is only one type of Agency, and digital is 100% at the heart of everyone’s output; directly or indirectly.

If I go into a room full agency people today, and I ask the question who here could not deliver their services without the internet, roughly 99% of the hands will go up. Remember only ten years ago it would have been half the room.

Then we have the consultancies who are now in our landscape, and they have been sweeping up the business/digital transformation agencies, the agencies who get the changing landscape, and more recently the acquisition of creative talent.


Let me get to the point. There, once again is a significant lack of investment in agency talent in emerging technology, and once again there is evidence of lazy, complacent talent, wasting their own spare time, under-investing in their futures and personal value.

The exponential growth driven by a combination of Moores & Kurzweil’s Law means that not only every is agency an innovation business, but now every brand in the world is too. Therefore they will now need to potentially re-invent themselves every 18 months.

There are still at least eight new technologies/understandings that are underpinning the new era of Agency 3.0. Services that brands will fail to deliver efficiently in-house for many years.

1. big data / data science / semantic

2. ar / vr / mr augmented

3. ai / machine learning

4. blockchain, crypto enablement, distributed networks

5. fab labs IOT.

6. influencer / Snapchat / data led marketing

7. neuroscience & behavioural marketing, EQ

8. the collaborative economy

So WAKE UP. Inspire your talent to embrace this era. Invest in your people, because if you don’t do it, then you’re not going to be around in the next two years.

One correction in the market and your agency and their team and will get ironically disrupted yourselves. Your web designers and digital marketers will soon return after no doubt then as AI Gurus.

You have been warned.

Spencer Gallagher
Founding Partner