Forget the agency of the future, we need  to focus on the relationship of the future
A view from Jim Scott

Forget the agency of the future, we need to focus on the relationship of the future

The industry needs to get over its obsession with AOR relationships and give CMOs what they really need, writes the founder of Mono

For the past year, industry talk has been focused around agencies’ inability to keep up with the increasing pace of change in the world of advertising, and as agencies, we’re all scrambling for the solution.

We've heard about new "agency of the future" models that pull talent from a number of disparate shops to create multidisciplinary dream teams. And we've heard of the client models that seek to simplify by culling down to fewer agencies that can provide seamless integration. Time will tell how successful these new models are, but, in many ways, these models don’t seem to be addressing the real problem: we need to get over our obsession with long-term, ongoing AOR relationships and give CMOs what they need—ultimate flexibility and more control over their marketing investment.

Brands come to us for our strategic chops and access to creative talent they can’t hire on their own. They want a powerful brand idea that can guide all of their marketing and communications efforts and breakthrough creative that will help them win in an ever-increasingly complex media environment. And now, more than ever, they also need the ability to flex and shift in real time based on the market and internal budget realities—they need to demonstrate that they can lower costs over time by building efficiencies into their marketing plans.

Translation: many of our client relationships have a far shorter runway than they did decades ago.

Now, this is obviously a volatile reality for agencies, who rely on those long-standing client budgets year-after-year to ensure a steady business. Without them, it’s difficult to staff and retain top-tier talent, forecasting is nearly impossible, and investing in new technologies and processes is tough because of unpredictable revenues.

These challenges got us thinking about how we can be a better partner to our clients and meet this growing need, without compromising the strategic and creative processes, or profitability.

Our solution is to cut the bullshit and be honest about the relationship from the very beginning. We start by putting a one-year time stamp on our partnership.

Our new model, which we call monoOne, provides clients with a senior team that delivers an entire brand launch or re-launch, including strategy, design, communication and content development, all in one year. Along the way, we create a transition plan, so in our final months we are working together to transition the intellectual operating tools to our client, instead of having those awkward "are we going to start planning for next year or what?" conversations. We simply hand over a roadmap of the work, so our clients can then execute with in-house teams or specialty production houses, all the while helping them drastically reduce budgets in years two, three and beyond.

There’s no haggling over rates or hours. There’s no elaborate pitch process with wining and dining. We come in, we do smart work, and then we gracefully exit. It’s an upfront and honest relationship that’s short-term and truly committed to helping the client succeed, which in turn, helps us succeed.

It’s not for everyone. AORs will remain the right approach for some clients, and we will have those relationships as well. But I think creative agencies are missing a great opportunity to define the relationship of the future, rather than trying to invent the agency of the future.

--Jim Scott is founder and managing partner of Mono in Minneapolis.