Don't ignore past in rush to build the agency of the future
A view from Gideon Spanier

Don't ignore past in rush to build the agency of the future

"Building the agency of the future" is a buzz phrase of the moment. We need to do things differently.

"Building the agency of the future" is a buzz phrase of the moment.

Translation: We need to do things differently. We don’t know how exactly, but we should bring creative and media closer together, produce content, and make data integral to the offering.

Agencies are trying to move from being "agency of record" to a "key partner agency". "There is an ‘egg-breaking’ shift in the way agencies are structuring themselves for the future," Will Hamilton of marketing management consultancy Hamilton Associates says in a blog about the challenges facing agencies as marketing disciplines blur. 

This looks to be driving a string of recent tie-ups: with Omnicom in the US, McDonald’s has put creative from DDB and media from OMD together under one roof. Toyota has moved its creative and media accounts in Europe to The & Partnership, which will set up a bespoke unit called &Toyota in similar fashion to what the agency group has done for News UK with in-house unit Pulse Creative.

Asda has also shifted its creative and media to Saatchi & Saatchi and Blue 449, both Publicis Groupe agencies. While it remains to be seen how well that tie-up will work, Weight Watchers has copied it by moving its media to Blue 449 to improve collaboration with its existing creative shop, Saatchis.

There is a theme, and it’s not just advertisers looking for both creative and media from one holding group – as much to cut costs as to integrate.

A lot of these accounts, including Toyota, Asda and Weight Watchers’ media, moved without a pitch.

Some of these brands concluded a pitch would take too long or be too costly – no wonder when 21st Century Fox’s media pitch in Europe took nearly 18 months and Volkswagen’s global review took more than 12 months. A year feels like an eternity in an age of digital transformation, and Brexit and a Trump presidency have only added to the sense that radical change is required.

Some people hail the reuniting of creative and media as "the return of full service", but Jerry Buhlmann, global boss of Dentsu Aegis Network, is right when he said: "The ‘return of’ never happens and never will." Indeed, one big trend is agencies losing clout as brands take more of their marketing in-house.

Yet the "agency of the future" doesn’t have to differ much from the past – Adam & Eve/DDB and Manning Gottlieb OMD have created highly effective work for John Lewis without being under one roof.

Ultimately, it is chemistry, trust and street smarts that matter. Just like they always have.