A view from Claire Beale, claire.beale@haymarket.com

Editor's Perspective: Do you really know why clients need agencies?

Do clients need advertising agencies? It seems like a thoroughly ridiculous question to anyone who believes in the power of brilliant consumer insight married to the very best creative talent and with the true perspective of a trusted advisor.

But it's not such a daft question as it might have been a few years ago. The arrival of always-on digital communications and the need for brands to be able to interact immediately and authentically with their customers potentially makes the middle-man an unnecessary encumbrance and expense. Meanwhile, the relentless drive for efficiencies is already leading clients to question whether they need long-term, retained agency relationships.

So it's possible that more clients will conclude they should be doing social media communications themselves, and merely hiring agencies for projects like a one-off ad campaign. Though, as Mel Exon argues in our feature (page 28), it's also possible to imagine that more clients will wonder whether, in fact, they actually need marketing departments. Why not entrust marketing to the agency that actually devises and executes the communications strategy?

It's easy to be glib in such debates. Of course, marketing departments do an awful lot more than simply work on communications strategies. And agencies often have more residual understanding of brands than the marketers passing through on their way up the corporate ladder. But it's clear that questions are being asked and relationships examined with a view to finding new and more efficient client/agency partnerships.

Earlier this week, I met with ISBA's Communications Procurement Action Group and though, reassuringly, they appeared to have a relatively sophisticated view of the value, not just the price, of advertising, there's no doubt that payment by results, the agency retainer and marketing/agency duplication are firmly on the procurement agenda.

As Exon says in our feature, the worst thing agencies can do is ignore the fact that a change in their role is inevitable. Those agencies that don't have a very clear rationale for how and why they add real value (beyond what clients can feasibly do themselves) might find that marketers and procurement teams conclude they can do without them altogether.

Robin Wight is brilliantly and relentlessly persuasive, which can be terribly exhausting sometimes. But I hope it pays off when it comes to getting his Creativity Accelerators initiative flying. It's a fair bet that the brands and mentors who sign up will find it a rewarding experience. And if the industry ends up with a broader base of young talent, then we'll all be richer for Wight's refusal to take no for an answer.

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