How today’s agencies can prepare for tomorrow’s challenges
Be it technology, consultancies, in-house skills or the war for top talent, agencies big and small are facing unprecedented business challenges from all directions. These challenges are not just here to stay, they are going to get bigger and come even faster than before!
Our panel included:
- Kate Sterling, Group Managing Director @ DDB Group
- Michael Titshall, Managing Director @ CHE Proximity
- Lucio Ribeiro, Managing Director @ Online Circle Digital
Our panelists got to the bottom of some topical questions on the mind of agency folk. From Bitcoin stealing your best talent to understanding how these infamous acquisitions are really playing out. We dived headfirst into the challenges that face agencies, including three key areas:
1. Evolving an agency’s offering
It’s becoming a prevalent tale that traditional agency models are dying down, and to stay ahead of the game, agencies are required to adapt and evolve. Whether that is through digital transformation or a complete restructure. Is this easier said than done?
Michael Titshall: “It’s about evolving capabilities… growth can come from many directions but for CHE it comes organically. A web-build for a client can lead to a conversation about media planning, which can subsequently lead to a bigger business conversation. Consumers are moving at a fast pace and it’s about keeping up with them, looking at what their behaviours are, and ultimately meeting those needs”.
Kate Sterling “It’s difficult not to hear noise from the industry and your competitors, however, if you’re having the right conversations with your clients, understanding the challenges they face and being comfortable with not having a solution straight away, then [the agency] will evolve and adapt to what’s important for your growth”.
2. Structuring an agency for future success
With a shift towards analytics-driven Marketing and technology-enabled business growth, we talked through the benefits of having specialisms within a full-service offering.
Kate Sterling: “You need to have both. We’ve allocated a lot of time as a management team to work out what our structure is, in order to make sure that we’re ready for growth. You need the right mix of thinkers, players and doers. It’s hard to get the mix right as your agency changes with growth and varying client demands, but in that mix, you certainly need specialists as well as generalists”.
Lucio Ribeiro: “There is a beauty in specialisms. Digital has completely shaken things up. Suddenly you have all of these different layers to take into account. You receive an email from TechCrunch about the latest technology, and all of a sudden there is an expectation from clients for you to know everything about the subject! That’s unfortunately not the case in that we are immediately apt in all new technologies, but our specialists will work together with the more traditional creatives to find the right answer.
With that being said, a growing number of agencies are leaning more towards a scalable model, known now as the ‘gig economy’. We can now see that with every new project or campaign, there is seemingly a new skill-set required or alternative technology to be introduced. As a result, the freedom to scale up and down with staff is becoming increasingly more popular. We pondered on how to keep culture, values and structure when staff are only hired for the length of a project as opposed to on a permanent employment basis.”
Kate Sterling: “Understanding what your values are is key for DDB’s success — they haven’t changed since when I first worked at there in 2008”. It’s impressive to hear that the agency has managed to retain its culture of, ‘The freedom to be; to fail; from chaos; from fear’.
Michael Titshall: “Agencies not only face competition from other agencies. They are now competing with staff going client-side, to tech start-ups, and consultancies having seemingly bigger pockets. CHE recently lost one of their best developers to another company who paid in Bitcoin. For us, culture and your people are the most important factors towards success”.
Lucio Ribeiro: “In order to protect your agency we adopt a simple philosophy of the 3 ‘F’s’: Fun Fortune and Fame. Fun — it is critical to keep your creative team stimulated, providing a fun environment for them to work in. Fame – building and boosting your own brand as an agency by working with clients that are the right fit for you. Fortune – you still need to be paid at the end of the day!”.
3. Acquisitions and mergers; the risks and rewards
A hot topic that is all over the news at the moment is the rise of acquisitions and mergers – most notably Accenture’s acquisition of Sydney agency, The Monkeys. We explored the reasons behind them.
Michael: “During an acquisition, there are many factors to consider. The client portfolio, the specialisation, and most importantly the people within the agency. The Monkeys are unbelievably talented guys. It is worth noting, however; the agreement and payment of the acquisition are spread over 10 years, meaning those that run the agency won’t receive their share if they leave in that time. The acquisition is about buying the brand but it is also about the people within it.”
Key learnings from the event:
It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening with a strong turnout and great insights as to future-proofing an agency, and how those within agencies can simultaneously evolve.
Though I haven’t included everything, if I were to pick the 3 key learnings from the evening, they would be:
- Be curious
- Be famous for something
- Don’t be afraid to fail