There are two types of people. People who don’t want to think of the future because they’re scared of change and people who live for the excitement that changes brings.
Well, there are two people for the purpose of this article…and my point.
You can find those two types in any industry, but they’re especially noticeable now in the agency business— because the agency business has literally been flipped on its head.
Well, your average, run-of-the-mill thought leadership article will point you to hundreds of different reasons. They’ve got every cookie cutter cause imaginable; technology, disruption, the death of TV, hell, the death of everything. But for me, there’s one thing that’s at the root of everything else:
Agencies don’t hold the keys to their own work anymore.
Back in the hey-day of advertising, agencies used to call the shots. They were experts in their fields, and their recommendations were highly valued by the brands they serviced. And while not every agency from that era deserves a medal for creativity, that platform allowed them to create great work.
Then the recession hit. Budgets vaporized as new channels exploded. Social media and other web based channels gave brands an alternative to traditional channels. Brands decided to build departments internally and take fewer chances. They decided it was better to stand together than stand out.
Agencies were given less and less freedom to recommend big ideas and instead were given to-do lists that had been sanitized and scrubbed of any creative potential.
Enter influencers—the great tsunami of change that’s capsized the balance of power.
Influencers are the natural response to the flood of mediocrity. They have the unique position of total creative freedom. And they’ve put that freedom to work. They’ve created interesting content, built audiences and earned the trust of their audience. They do what they love and don’t have to make compromises on the content they create.
And I think there’s another factor that’s often overlooked that’s a key to their success: they have the data. They own the account, so they’re intimately familiar with the raw data and reactions that are crucial to developing consistently successful content.
Brands want a piece of that action.
But because influencers are individuals, they have an image to protect. They get to choose what projects they want to work on, and that keeps creative control on their side of the court. Which is great for influencers, but how do agencies get back in a position to do great work again?
Simple: Make. Waves.
Agencies have to find new ways to take risks, and be creative. And I don’t just mean in their work. I mean in how they do business.
There are two ways I see that happening:
The first is the so-called “non-agency.” The non-agency is an agency that invests in its clients. Not the hackneyed lip service most places pay about “caring” about the work. I’m talking about actually putting your money where your mouth is and investing hard dollars.
I’ve watched this model evolve, and it’s something we’ve started doing at Hiccup, as well. Invest in the product you’re marketing. That investment puts you and your client on the same side, and when both parties are on the same side, you both stand to win.
It pushes you to get beyond the narrow perspective of advertising, too. It forces you to be involved in the design of the products, R&D, and the second-to-second life of e-commerce. It launches you back into a world of big ideas. It makes your work accountable and injects fresh creativity and perspective in the companies you believe in.
And the next thing that should be on every agency’s list of things to do? Build an audience, and get good at servicing it. Because whoever controls the audience, controls the message.
That’s where I really see things going. A focus on creation, rather than distribution of content. Because extraordinary creative, shared to the right audience, on a regular basis will always be more valuable than forcing people to engage with mediocre work.
Does that rock the industries’ boat? Yeah, it does. But like I said, we’re in the business of making waves.