How would you describe your brand-agency relationship?

Titan, Engineer, Coalition, Hybrid, In-house... which of these best describes your brand-agency relationship, now and over the next decade? A decade that has begun with the most disruptive episode – to people’s health, behaviours, to economies and the commercial landscape – that most of us will ever know?

Nigel Vaz is president of the IPA, and CEO of Publicis Sapient
Nigel Vaz is president of the IPA, and CEO of Publicis Sapient

Once upon a time, in early 2019, in an age when meetings with clients were in person, when agency folk worked alongside each other in the same building, and I was setting out my ‘Reimagine’ agenda as incoming President of the IPA, we had an idea. We would help agencies to reimagine their role, revenue and responsibility – the 3Rs – and become the partners for growth that clients need to navigate what was, even then, a sea of change and uncertainty.

A key plank of the Reimagine agenda was to identify and share new agency models, and to undertake a consumer study that would explore attitudes toward brands and communications in a digital age. ‘The Future of Brand and Agency Relationships’, a report by Foresight Factory commissioned by the IPA, delivers on that. It examines the consumer and industry forces shaping the future of marketing, and the models of brand-agency relationships that will thrive in the 2020s.

Potential pole position
Debate about the merits of ‘full-service’ agencies relative to specialists, and to in-housing, is as old as the advertising industry itself. There are certainly echoes of those relationship models within this latest IPA report.

The ‘Titan’ is a single partner providing all of a client’s marketing services across strategy and execution – able to meet all client needs for data, technological and creative competencies.

The ‘Engineer’ is a lead partner for overarching strategy, with execution carried out by a number of other agencies.

‘Coalition’ and ‘Hybrid’ are each a variety of federated model, with inter-agency and client-agency collaboration and agility vital to their success.

‘In-house’ needs little further explanation, other than functional opportunities do exist for agencies under this model, even where its emphasis is on marketing’s proximity to the business and cost-cutting.

The ‘Future of Brand and Agency Relationships’ report takes a position on which of these models has the greatest potential to dominate in the 2020s. While each model will have its industry advocates, based at least in part on their own business situation and aspiration, what’s more interesting than ‘which works best?’ is ‘which works best in the new normal, and why?’.

Brand responsibility
Covid-19 has pushed consumers to engage with brands through new channels, across which leading brands must now be ubiquitous. Their data relationship is increasingly re-examined – how it is handled, and whether zero-party data is incentivised fairly.

Are brands actively managing their societal impact, for all stakeholder groups? Where there is a disconnect between their ‘be, do, and say’ – what brands claim to represent and how they act – it will be instantly and excruciatingly exposed in an era of radical transparency. And are brands providing the desired practical and emotional support through Covid and its economic shockwaves?

Change champions
The global coronavirus pandemic has had an extraordinary amplifying effect on these emerging consumer and commercial trends: taking those shifts and increasing the scale and rate of change. Agencies’ ability to adapt and partner with clients to navigate these key drivers and trends will be crucial to mutual success, both during and beyond the pandemic.

The IPA’s ‘Future of Brand and Agency Relationships’ is now available here.


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