IPA ADAPT: The client-agency agility revolution

IPA ADAPT: The client-agency agility revolution

Day two of IPA Ian Priest's Agility Adaptathon on 'Agile creative': As brands move into real-time conversations with consumers, so the old ways of client-agency working look increasingly untenable.

Greater trust lies at the heart of the new model, but there are other significant cultural barriers to overcome. There’s no doubt that Darwin’s theory of evolution – that the species that adapt are the ones that survive – is entirely appropriate to the revolution sweeping through clients and agencies.

The demands that digitisation, two-way conversations and real-time response put on brands forces both agencies and clients to adapt. But what are the right new structures and working practices? In a collaborative environment, what role can trusted partners play? And how does all this feed into issues like remuneration?

Opening the IPA’s lab on agile creativity, Sara Bennison, Barclays’ managing director for Marketing, UK Retail & Business Banking, noted that the combination of digital acceleration and reputational issues facing banks in 2008 forced Barclays to change its engagement model. "We build our reputation on where and how we behave as a brand, not just by marketing. That led us to change, and change the way we worked. Our biggest risk was not to change."

Where old-style Barclays marketing typically focused on five to six major, calendar-driven, campaigns, now – while those remain – it includes fast-turnaround films, digital content publishing and social media conversations driven by wider consumer issues as and when they occur. "If you ask me what we’ll be doing in two week’s time, I can’t tell you," Bennison said.

The lab session was part of an IPA President Ian Priest’s drive to focus on agility, and took place on the second day of his ‘adaptathon’, on how clients and agencies can respond to the need to act fast. It forms part of his ADAPT agenda; designed to create a platform from which agencies can improve their commercial creativity 

Hurdles and challenges

For Charlie Rudd, managing director of BBH, Barclays’ above-the-line agency, the biggest challenges are operational and cultural: "We’ve been programmed to think of campaigns as projects: put it out and move on. Now, when you put it out there, that’s just the starting point. We react in real-time to how it performs, and make it better. We talk about it as high-performance creativity."

Sean Betts, head of agile client solutions at Havas Media, cautions that agility isn’t always the same as fast. "It can be, but it’s more about adapting. You have to change the culture: how you resource, what sort of people you need, and the structures you operate it. The one thing agile isn’t, is easy," he said.

Changing the way agencies and clients work together and the volume of output should, in theory, lead to changes in the way agencies are paid. Indeed as Charlie Rudd said "There are fundamental cost challenges for agencies…"

"…if they work and structure themselves differently. But a lot of cost is tied up in traditional control structures. If you loosen control and trust people more, costs should be lower."

Non-traditional creative resource

If agility demands new ways of working and non-traditional output, then the advertising eco-system has seen new types of creative providers flourish – whether YouTubers, crowd-sourcing or content-driven agencies. What can the more established industry players learn from them?

John Winsor, CEO of US crowd-sourcing agency Victor & Spoils, encouraged ‘disruption’: "In this democratised age, creativity comes from everywhere. Who is an amateur, and who is a professional? The only question is: who gets to deliver it? So why not innovate?"

V&S, whose clients include Smirnoff, Crocs, JC Penney and Coca-Cola, uses different crowd-sourcing models, from brand fans to experts and professionals. V&S is an experiment, Winsor said, "and in the democratised world you need to experiment. The moment we say we’re the dogma, we’re done. We’re open to the possibility that the traditional way is sometimes the right one."

Coming from a TV background, Chris Chaundler, production director of VCCP’s content arm VCCP KIN, has applied an editorial remit to the agency’s task of producing "content that people find useful or entertaining."

Its O2 Guru TV channel shifted its focus from educating consumers about technology to inspiring them, using co-creation with online influencers, writers and bloggers.

At the same time, he said, VCCP KIN went from producing videos to a brief, to a more reactive and editorially-driven, approach. "O2 Guru is more credible and relevant as a result," he said. The results are better too: greater editorial credibility has seen O2 Guru improve its organic search results and reduced the cost per view from 34p to 7p. "Brands have to relinquish some control, whether that’s in the editorial process or production," Chaundler added.

If evidence was needed that YouTubers understand content and audiences, noted Alison Lomax, head of agency creative partnerships at Google, then one statistic tells the story: of the top 5,000 YouTube channels, only 2 per cent are brand channels – even though they have the production budgets and the money to buy audiences.   

YouTube stars such as Tanya Burr who has expanded from make-up videos into fashion, cookery and lifestyle, and the JacksGap twins whose documentary-style work is shot, edited and uploaded as they go along, demonstrates the growing professionalism of the medium.

By contrast, said Lomax, adland’s default position on YouTube was to upload 30-second TV ads. "These two worlds are beginning to collide and the results will be interesting. There are no rules on YouTube, yet traditional creatives feel threatened by this," she said.

At multi-discipline agency Karmarama, creative agility comes about through access to different types of creative, said Caitlin Ryan, the agency’s group ECD. "I have a toolbox of lots of different types of creatives from different backgrounds. There are creationists – maybe with a broadcast background – who craft ads and won’t let them go until they’re perfect. They can be very inspiring. And there are evolutionists – from a digital or direct background. They tend to work in beta, and are used to the feedback loop. "

But the key to integration and agility was the abolition of ego and silo. Ryan believes:  "It’s impossible to create integrated work with a hierarchy." She cites the twice-weekly videos produced around the ‘good news’ theme for Onken yoghurt (above) as an example. "It’s about a state of mind," she said.

Following yesterday’s session IPA President Ian Priest has given his take on the session: "We heard a lot of good ideas and examples at yesterday’s lab around the challenges to the traditional model. Whilst we shouldn’t forget that real-time isn’t everything as there is still a very important place for the more planned set-piece elements, it’s about the ‘and’ rather than the ‘or’. Increasingly it will be about blending the latest technology with traditional marketing principles. Acting in the right place at the right time. What we have heard has been inspiring and thought provoking, and underlines my drive to create a more agile model for clients and agencies in this emerging era. 

To meet this new approach both clients and agencies need to become more adaptive to achieve greater commercial creativity. It is about agencies looking at their ways of working and their business models, it is about clients looking at their briefing, their approval processes, and their budgeting. It’s about both sides experimenting and building better, stronger, longer partnerships together. We are on a continuous journey to evolve as an industry, utilising all that is already brilliant about us whilst continuing to take steps forward."