The Future Of Agencies, According To The Agencies
The winds of change are blowing across the agency landscape. This weekend’s bombshell announcement that Sir Martin Sorrell is stepping down as CEO of WPP, amidst personal misconduct allegations, is proof that we’re watching a tectonic shift take place. While I don’t have any details about the investigation it’s striking that even the most visible agency leader in the world, and one of Britain’s longest-tenured CEOs, would befall the sea change that’s occurring. Besides the details around Sir Martin’s resignation, the attached Investing.com article does a nice job tracing the rise of Sorrell from a two-person agency in the UK to the head of the largest agency Holding Company in the world. It also serves as the perfect stepping off point to figure out what’s next for the beleaguered agency industry.
Last week at the 4As conference in Miami (before the Sorrell announcement), AdWeek polled agency leaders to get predictions about what their industry will look like five years from now. It’s pretty interesting to see the array of responses, ranging from timely goals like gender equality and racial diversification to mundane topics like how banner ads will be created in the future. As you read through the quotes you’ll see a consensus repeated – the need for consolidation into a simpler agency model.
For a little background agencies have spent the last decade creating specialized services as a way to layer on offerings for clients. What started as simple “digital” arms of agencies has subdivided several times over into centers of excellence around data management, programmatic trading, procurement, etc.. Of course each of these new entities generates its own work (aka more billable hours), which has helped agency revenue grow in the short term. But as you read these comments you’ll get the sense that even agencies themselves recognize they’ve created a murky spider web of specialized business units which no longer makes sense to clients. As a result we’re starting to hear calls for simplification, streamlining, and transparency, even from the same agencies who created today’s confusing environment.
So will these quotes turn into tangible action? It’s hard to say. In my experience when you ask people in the abstract about ways to improve something they’ll answer with ambitious ideas, but when they return to their desks it goes back to business as usual. It’s kind of the professional equivalent to saying you’re against hunger or poverty (because who isn’t?), without actually doing any volunteer work. So it’ll be interesting to see if these agency leaders actually walk the walk towards their five year visions.