Editorial: Agencies must shape up to preserve 'advertising'

Another year, another call to agencies to either adapt or die. This time, though, the warning comes not from a headline-chasing marketing director or a parsimonious procurement specialist, but the industry's own trade body.

What makes the IPA's newly published report compelling is that it pulls together a wealth of information to provide a helicopter view of the threats and challenges.

The problem the IPA faces is that many of its member agencies are trapped in organisational structures dating back more than a century. The reinvention initiatives taking place at one-time agency powerhouses such as JWT and Ogilvy show how hard and painful it can be to establish more relevant configurations and change mindsets.

The ideal solution would be to tear up the blueprint and start over. Ideal but impractical. The business cannot reconfigure overnight. But reconfigure it must if it is to continue engaging with consumers who are marketing literate, possess more power than ever before, yet are increasingly harder to reach owing to a highly fragmented media landscape.

The evolving market begs the question of how much longer "advertising" will endure as a meaningful term.

Given the community it represents, the IPA's conclusion that "advertising" should continue as a recognisable and differentiated term is understandable. However, this depends largely how well agencies face up to new rules of engagement that pay no heed to what has gone before. How can they, as social networking sites gain the power to make or break brands; media owners use their own creative departments to deliver advertiser-funded content, and cut-through ideas come from a multitude of sources.

Agencies must be as flexible in structure as they are nimble in mind if "advertising" is to remain worthy of the name.