Secret Marketer: Ad agencies will be replaced by anyone with the right ideas if they’re complacent

These are interesting times for agencies. The agency model has changed but so have some of the rich pickings around the edges.

I recently attended a presentation where it was claimed that an IT company was helping a well-known consumer brand with strategic thinking and designing its customer experience. The IT company had effectively replaced the advertising agency, which had received the same brief in the past. An IT brand, taking over from an advertising agency. Why is the marketing industry letting this happen?

This is a very interesting development and can be explained in a number of ways. Firstly, the role of technology has become so important to brands in today’s fast-moving, digitally-enabled, and always-on mode.

It is the reason why so many claim that CMOs control more of a brand’s IT spend than the chief financial officer (CFO). As such, it is hardly surprising to find an IT vendor in the boardroom talking about strategy.

Secondly, whether or not ad agencies will want to accept it, too many of them have become lazy and complacent. They have assumed that they are the advisor of choice, and have failed to appreciate how mature brand owners have become and how willing they are to take ideas from anyone.

Thirdly, agencies do not have the senior level connections needed these days to advise on important matters such as strategy. They have invested their Rugby World Cup tickets and Wimbledon debentures into the CMO and his/her direct reports, while failing to extend their relationships to the CEO, CFO and other key stakeholders around the boardroom table. IT suppliers have taken a broader C-suite approach to their businesses. Over the years, I have had strong relationships with IT directors of technology suppliers on behalf of the brands I have worked for.

These are interesting times for agencies. The agency model has changed but so have some of the rich pickings around the edges. Brand owners have more skills than before; I have my own in-house design studio, so I only look for third-party expertise when it fills a gap I cannot solve myself. Likewise, I know more about my market than an agency, and I seem to spend most of my time educating them on my business, when in bygone years, they would brief me.

In the same way as my customers are forcing my brand to evolve, so must my agencies. They need to know my business inside out, bring new and creative ideas to the table and they need to help me educate the wider board on why marketing investment is so critical.

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