The 5 Strengths of the New AgencyTimes are hard in the marketing and advertising world and thereseems to be consensus that things won’t be getting easier. The oldagency model is on the road to extinction, but no on seems quite surehow to survive. There is agreement that agencies need to adapt andtransform from “integrated ad agencies,” to some new type oforganization that is defined by broad thinking, flexibility and a morestrategic approach to problem solving. The problem is that this sort ofthing is easier to talk about than to achieve. Becoming skilled inconversation marketing, insights generation and digital marketingrequires more than the addition of new skill sets inside the agency, itrequires a fundamental shift in how we think and operate. Whetheryou are an agency trying to reinvent yourself or a company in searchof a more effective vendor, it is more important than ever to thinkabout how you will promote your brand in a meaningful, sustainableway.Doing that means working less on a one-sided story and more oncreating experiences. Experiences invite participation and engagespeople on emotional, rational, and cultural levels. They inspire peopleto drag their friends along and share the experience with the world.Experiences can exist as a webpage or phone app. But doing thisrequires a different kind of thinking and an agency that is willing tothrow off its typical processes and embrace something new. So whatare agencies to do?1. Change the structure of the teamYou can hand off elements of an engagement from team to team, butthe result will be a continuation of the same old thing. If you want toconceive and execute powerful customer experiences, you need the
researchers, creatives, strategists, and interactive designers workinghand in hand throughout the entire process. Hand-offs result inmuddied interpretations and siloed thinking. Getting teams to worktogether and share ideas in an iterative way is absolutely essential.This means developing teams based less on function and more on theirpassions, flexibility, and willingness to communicate in an ongoingway. This means getting everyone involved from the start. It used tobe that everyone waited until the creative team emerged fromisolation with the ”big” idea (the message, the spot, the tagline.) Ifyou get everyone working together from the day one the solution willbe more than an ad, it will transcend any one medium.2. Be genuinely interdisciplinaryHaving a broad set of skills on which to draw does not make an agencyinterdisciplinary. Not everyone needs to be an expert in everydiscipline, but they need to understand the basics. More importantly,people need to feel comfortable sharing thoughts and ideas withoutfear of being dismissed by others. They need to be encouraged to havea voice. One simple way to do this is to have client team members sitand work near each other, not in departmental sections of the office.Don’t isolate departments. Another way to encourage this is to have ashared work space, such as a wall, devoted to sharing ideas andinsights. This encourages people to engage in a discussion rather thanfalling back on the old, familiar way of doing things.3. Start with the userIt may sound obvious, but putting the user at the heart of the solutionis crucial. This is easier said than done and it is easy to forget who theuser is when we work in isolation. Anything we create, be it a product,an experience, a campaign, or a business strategy, starts and endswith the user. This means understanding a customer’s relationship
with more than the brand. It means understanding how they view theworld, the multiple reasons behind why they shop, what their socialnetworks are, etc. In other words, start with what is important to theuser in the broadest sense and create according to how your brand fitsin with their identity and cultural norms.4. Re-think the creative briefThe creative brief is a relic. With the exception of a few tweaks hereand there it has remained unchanged for years. It clarifies thequestion, “What do we want to say?” but it rarely asks why we want tosay it or what the consumer wants and needs. It is better to answerquestions like, “How will we create brand advocacy?” “What thingsdoes the customer need to hear from their point of view?” “How do weget people to participate?” “What does the brand mean in the contextin which it will be used?” Asking those sorts of questions moves theend product from simply being clever to being smart and relevant.5. Become a learning organizationWhile human beings are hardwired to explore and learn, we also havea tendency toward complacency. We get in a pattern once we learnhow to do something and tend not to deviate. But with theproliferation of technology and social media networks, increasedglobalization, and the pace at which access to information isexpanding, it is imperative that everyone in an organization always bein a learning mode. This means cultivating a mindset that fosters andrewards learning and going outside individual comfort zones. Create alibrary, take creative fieldtrips, get the organization to explore theworld instead of sitting in an office. The result is more collaboration,fresh thinking, and greater engagement by the members of the team.
What it all meansIn the past, audiences were fairly captive. They were largely passiveconsumers of advertising as they read the paper, watched television,etc. The model was simple: buy attention and you will eventuallyconvert someone into a consumer of your brand. But in a postmodernworld of global branding and social media, companies can no longersimply buy attention. The best crafted brand stories may bememorable, but only if someone hears them. You may create acommercial that creates a truly phenomenal amount of buzz, but itmeans nothing if that buzz isn’t relevant and doesn’t produce revenuegrowth. As consumers become more inclined to co-create the brandthrough speaking, blogging, sharing ideas, and adopting brands aspart of their public identities, we need to move from simply tellingstories and hoping the audience will listen to getting others to engagewith the brand and telling the stories for us. In other words, we needto engage our audience in a much more interactive, discursive way.For agencies that will thrive in the emerging market, gone are dayswhen you gave the creative team surface-level research findings (orsimply a clever idea), wrote up a brief and hoped for somethingrevolutionary. Many beautiful campaigns were developed, to be sure,but that didn’t mean they were relevant. This is even more true today.Today, agencies have a wide range of disciplines on any given team(anthropologists, illustrators, interactive gurus, strategists, etc.), butthis broad set of skills and perspectives means little if they don’t knowhow to work together in a way that departs from past processes.