5 ways marketers can create the optimum agency model

Peter Cowie, co-founder and managing partner of Oystercatchers, shares his key take-aways from AdForum’s Worldwide Summit NYC 2015


As digital, social, and mobile continue to move money and attention away from television advertising, brand owners, marketers and their agencies have to adjust a new world.

At Advertising Week USA last month, Unilever’s vice-president of global media innovations and ventures Babs Rangaiah observed a trend among brands for bringing more strategic planning in-house and using a trimmed-down agency roster to execute it. He concluded: “I don’t think anyone knows what the right [agency] model is for the future.”

Elsewhere in New York, global CEOs of the world’s leading agencies met last week to share their visions at one of the industry’s most influential gatherings, AdForum’s Worldwide Summit NYC 2015. Here’s what marketers need to know about what they think is the future of client/agency relationships.

1. The three new pillars of the brand-agency partnership

Agencies are demanding three succinct roles from marketers. To frame the challenge, create a safe environment to work in and invite the right people to join in and collaborate. One theme propelling this change is ‘people-powered marketing’ where content co-creation, harnessing the input of influencers and passionate consumers, is liberating marketers, agencies and brand communications to go bigger and further than ever before.

2. It’s time for marketers to manage risk 

In our data-driven world, measurement at the expense of creativity is stifling innovation. The pursuit of certainty can lead to average work. All sides agree that reasons lead to conclusions while emotions inspire actions so change must happen to better equip marketers with the necessary tools to minimise risk and accelerate potential.

The exciting development for all is that agencies are now enthusiastically exploring and launching new evaluation tools that go well beyond the norm. BBDO for instance has developed a methodology to measure the release of natural chemicals such as dopamine (confidence-boosting and addictive) and oxytocin (bonding, trust and love) after being exposed to advertising. This helps to quantify the power of emotion and therefore the power to act. Good examples include:

Guinness ‘Made of black’


Pedigree pet food ‘Feed the good’

Snickers ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’

3. Agencies can simplify complexity

“Make complexity invisible” is an often-heard rallying cry from brand owners who look to agencies to help them navigate the omnichannel world. We heard from a well-known global agency which had identified the dream team for the ‘hyper-bundled operating model’; and it was made up of arch-competitors Wieden & Kennedy, RGA, Horizon Media and Geometry. There is real recognition that it is the agencies that collide and the people that collaborate so agencies are responding by putting partnership back on the table.

4. Massive data matters

The ‘big-data’ tsunami has been building for years but big insights have not. Wunderman reported that it manages 20 billion advertising impressions every month, for example. More data is no longer helpful and the age of simply harvesting ‘big data’ is at an end. The pressing challenge today is to deliver real solutions to new problems and do it quickly. Massive data will deliver massive solutions that focus on and unlock the real insights influencing behaviour.

5. The customer remains king and queen

This old adage remains true. Of the 24 presentations I attended, there was one common thread: put the customer first if you want to succeed, and make sure you know who your customer really is. Modern marketers need their agencies to redefine meaningful connections and top the one-dimensional activities that purely generate branding for branding’s sake.

Sapient shared the back office complexities of developing the ‘Get cash without a card’ service for NatWest and the tangible difference it made to the bank’s ‘Helpful Banking’ campaign was beyond words, creating unique experience-driven benefits for its connected customers.

Ultimately what came through loudest is that this is the most exciting time to work in marketing. Change has happened. Omnichannel communications fuelled by always-on media channels are today’s reality. The ability to shape the future of every brand or company now lies with the customer, and the responsibility to harness this opportunity lies in the hands of the marketing department. The agencies are ready, it’s time to go to work.

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