Is an 'always on' agency model viable?

When British Airways announced last month that it was reviewing its global creative roster because the "changing marketplace" had prompted it to reassess "the model", BA was merely the latest advertiser to see whether there was a more efficient way to manage its communications.

HSBC had started the trend earlier in the year – but with an outcome that was not entirely satisfying for all parties involved. Anecdotally, it seems that some clients are looking for a new "always on" model where their agencies no longer spend months working on specific briefs to produce a spike in advertising activity at a specific point – which the famed 400 TVR burst, with support by outdoor ads, would once have provided.

Rather, and to keep up with changes in the way that media is consumed, they want – or think they want – agency partners that can manage a constant stream of activity across multiple platforms and respond quickly to events, as well as produce the odd piece of brand advertising.

It seems to be a utopian ideal – so are agencies set up to be as nimble as clients now demand?

Suit

Russ Lidstone, chief executive, Havas Worldwide London

"Our model has changed massively in the past few years as speed and deftness have become increasingly important for all clients. I think for true ‘nimbleness’, it is fundamental that a range of services is homed in one place and, critically, on one P&L, so integrated strategy and blended content can evolve without haggling over separate agency fees. The flip side to speed is that expediency can impact quality of thinking and execution. Agencies are valuable to clients because of objectivity and the ability to make creative leaps. Those leaps are more likely with time to get past ‘first thoughts’."

Suit

Liz Wilson, chief executive, CMW

"For most businesses, the old TV-centric marketing model is pretty much broken – the same budget doesn’t achieve the same results as five years ago. The move to the new marketing model is born out of necessity and the need to do more with less. So it’s surprising how slowly traditional brands and agencies are changing. Only Nike and perhaps Heineken stand out as brands that have moved their approach from brand-centric to customer-centric, from message to conversation, from broadcast to personal experience. Most marketers still feel safer starting from TV and adapting. That is not how people ‘receive’ marketing so is a pretty short-term approach."

Suit

Charlie Rudd, managing director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"Any forward-looking agency will have been crying out for change to the client/agency model for years. The nonsense of limiting strategic and creative minds and their ideas to one channel or another, or simply limiting agencies to communications, appears to be coming to an end, as clients innovate their own structures and look for new agency models. We all need a more connected approach to producing work that sells at every step of the customer journey. What must be remembered, though, is that you can have as much efficiency and model innovation as you want, but it won’t sell any product. We still need great thinking and engaging ideas to transform businesses."

Suit

Nigel Vaz, senior vice-president and European managing director, SapientNitro

"The always-on nature of comms today has led clients to demand new approaches, abilities and agility of their agencies. It is a demand imposed on an industry largely made up of legacy agencies and structures that, by definition, are not nimble. When a holding company has to raid and break up its own assets in order to pull together a team that adequately mirrors this new client reality – what further proof do we need that the old systems are broken? A nimble agency is a new breed of agency – with one culture and one P&L, and built to create stories that always-on consumers can live out across brand, digital and commerce."

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