Should agencies become full service?

2015 will mark the renaissance of the full-service agency.

Or so James Murphy, Adam & Eve/DDB’s chief executive, predicted in Campaign. He wrote: "It’s a rebirth that is already under way but will truly flower this year due to client demand and the ability of agencies to offer powerful brand strategy allied to seamless delivery across channels."

The pace of change in the ad industry has been marked in the past few years, with an increasingly digital world breaking down traditional marketing silos, a proliferation of media channels and a more demanding consumer. This has led to clients’ expectation that work is more integrated. In response, agencies have attempted to broaden their offer, buying up shops and bringing in new specialists. For example, Bartle Bogle Hegarty set up a CRM division to retain the British Airways account. It is now planning a low-cost production business, a digital products and services unit and a creative studio.

And yet, despite all the talk, there are still very few truly integrated agencies that have made it work successfully. Is it time for all shops to embrace the spread?

Agency head

Alison Hoad, vice-chairman, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

"It’s not just clients who are pushing for a greater strategic output from their lead agency – the more progressive agencies are too as a new generation of entirely digitally native leaders emerge. From our own experience in bringing alive ideas across any platform, we have developed experiential events for Land Rover and a whole set of characters and intellectual property for Danone. However, I’m not sure that this necessarily all has to be executed under one roof – choosing and bringing together the best in class, once the agency has created the strategic idea, is something that agencies have always done."

Agency head

Tom Bazeley, chief executive, M&C Saatchi

"When agencies are asked to comment on the best agency model, it’s pretty rare for them to do anything other than suggest theirs is the right one. We are in the process of restructuring M&C Saatchi, and I want a philosophy, a culture and a process that avoid words like digital, social, traditional, mobile – and no mention of lines (through, above, below, blurred or other). Instead, the client will issue a challenge and ask us the best way of solving it. Whether the answer is a TV ad, a Tweet, an event, a GIF, a documentary or a statue, I don’t care. Nor will consumers. If this is full service, then, yes, I’m in favour."

Agency head

Annette King, chief executive, Ogilvy & Mather Group UK

"I agree with the notion of ‘full service’. A few notes of caution on how to go about it, though. The suggested solution may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it easy. Bolting additional services on to a pre-existing agency rarely works well, simply because it’s difficult and time consuming to create the kind of collaborative culture which allows different talents to work harmoniously together. I also question the assumption that the advertising discipline should always lead this process by virtue of its "higher quality of strategic talent and thinking". It is precisely this assumption that has doomed so many attempts by advertising agencies to broaden their offerings in the past, not least because few really good people in data, direct, shopper, social or PR would choose to work under such conditions. 

There are, of course, a lot of extremely smart and compelling strategists in advertising, but if you spend any time with the strategic talent in a customer engagement agency, a PR consultancy or a shopper marketing practice, the breadth and richness of specialist strategic capability is astonishing. That kind of depth cannot be bolted on.

So for us, the key issue is not bundling these skills into one agency, but finding the right strategic frameworks, operational processes and cultural cohesion to ensure the best of these talents are harnessed and deployed for clients at the right time in a cost-effective way. We call it ‘deep integration’. "

Agency head

Matt Edwards, chief executive, WCRS

"All the firepower under one roof. Specialist skills working together. Collaboration without cultural differences, profit motives and timing gaps. It’s the Engine model. This model has become increasingly attractive as clients seek to achieve better results, often with less marketing resource and a smaller media spend. Having said that, structuring for integration is meaningless if the strategies and ideas you’re integrating aren’t best in class. My prediction for 2015 would be the continued rise of the creative partnership, with many of the best ideas resulting from agencies partnering with external talent."


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