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The future agency. Actually, what should an agency for now look like?

Ben Dickens, June 14, 2016

When exactly is the future? Agencies muse on what we should look like in 10 years’ time, is this to paper over the cracks of what a full service agency should look like now?

Technology is often cited as the key to a future agency. I personally think it’s alarming that we still talk about technology as if it’s something new. Most of us should be well on our way down the tech path, if not we’re well behind the majority of consumers out there. Something that is nearly always left out of these discussions are the constants, the intangibles and processes that haven’t or shouldn’t have changed and they are what makes agencies good and some better, sure technology has improved their efficiency but it most certainly hasn’t made them unnecessary, in fact they are more important than ever.

This week we explore the notion of what a full service digital agency should be now, not what an agency should look like in 2, 5, or even 10 years because by that point it’s probably too late. This isn’t a dig at the industry, more a checklist of what a client should look for when evaluating agencies to work with in a digitally connected world.

Firstly, I think it’s worth explaining a little bit about the digitally connected age and what this actually means. The digitally connected age is, put simply, the “New Normal”. The new normal, put simply, is a change that’s here to stay. Consumer behaviour has been altered, driven by technology, and this is now the norm. There’s no going back to that pre-tech or pre-device age, it has become the “new normal”. This isn’t the first time technology has driven a big shift in consumer behaviour, the advent of TV, allowed content to be beamed directly into households, and this had a huge impact on the way consumers behaved and of course how brands took advantage of this through their marketing. The new normal we live in now requires a subsequent shift in how brands take advantage of this behavioural change. This of course means the agencies that serve them also need to make changes.

So what does this mean for agencies? Well, there are two areas of focus; where change or new skills need to be embraced and where consistency is required. Finding the balance is key to delivering consistently strong work.

What a full service agency for the digitally connected agency should be embracing:

• Integrated communications are the only route to successful outcomes in the new normal. Consumers are navigating across multiple touch points at breakneck speed. Consistency is therefore key, get one wrong and you run great risk of losing the consumer. They don’t view these touch points as silos, rather they make decisions based on the sum of the whole experience.
• Technology simply can’t be ignored in the new normal. It seems daft to have to say this really.
• Data is the key to unlocking success in the new normal.
• With so many channels and so many options in the new normal, clear, concise, creative strategy is a must to knit everything together.
• Great creative should come from the intersection of design and technology

However, some things need to remain consistent. They’re as relevant today as they were in the 80s, sadly they are sometimes undervalued in our immediacy culture, but you can bet they exist in spades behind the best work out there.

• Good agencies solve problems; they do this by understanding what the problem is. They have good, thorough planning.
• Ideas can come from anywhere but in a professional environment great ideas are born of good insights. That means good planning.
• Good agencies have strong, strategic thinking, informed by good planning

Sadly, this isn’t the natural stomping ground for digital agencies whose focus is very often on the doing rather than the thinking and doing, planning is only skin deep. Don’t believe me? Well you can see this in action when you look at recent big pitch wins. Switched on clients are invariable spending money with integrated or more traditional creative agencies. Brands have recognised the value is in the thinking and ideas and treating production as a given, as digital capabilities are more universal they they have ever been.

So what does this mean a lead full service agency should like like now? Well, we rather unsurprisingly think it should look a lot like us. It should be any agency that recognises that a more complex world puts even more emphasis on first being able to understand that world, the people in it and how to connect that with a brand for a mutually beneficial outcome. It requires a full service agency that isn’t heavily biased towards a particular channel or methodology, someone who’s thinking beyond channels and making appropriate decisions at the right time. Someone at home with both campaign and always-on marketing approaches, but crucially, someone who can knit the two together. In this complex world, we believe that collaboration should be high on the agenda, whilst it clearly pays to be integrated, no agency can claim to be a master of everything. We favour a narrow but deep approach, retaining control at the strategic and creative end where it’s important, but recognising that we can work with partners on production and activation.

Above all it should be a full service agency that can take the strategic lead and not get bogged down in tactical delivery.

We’re not a straight digital or creative agency for this very reason, because it’s limiting. We integrate digital as it’s very often the glue that keeps everything else aligned. But this isn’t a digital only approach, if anything our approach is quite old-fashion; understand, think, then do. We call it lean full service.

If you’d like to discuss how DVO can help you tackle the new normal, then contact us. We want to hear your story, more importantly we want to tell others for you.

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