IPA ADAPT: Ian Priest on the agile client-agency relationship

IPA ADAPT: Ian Priest on the agile client-agency relationship

This month the Agility Adaptathon took place (7th-8th May 2014), taking us to the halfway mark in my ADAPT agenda.

We all know that, in an age that combines real-time brand conversations, data and content with big, set-piece campaigns, both clients and agencies have to be more agile and flexible in the way we work: not only in what we produce, but the structures and processes that help us go about it.

Two things about the Agility labs left a mark on me: first, we saw grown-up conversations between agencies and clients at the highest level about how we, collectively, adapt; second, there’s an open-ness and honesty about the need for experimentation and a willingness to take risks. People on both sides are taking it seriously.

It’s terrific when we get senior-level clients from the likes of Barclays, RSA, Transport for London, BP and Sony engaging publicly with these issues.

You can catch up on some of the highlights here and here, as well as here.

If you want to join the debate, you can do so here.

What it underlines is the need for trust and partnership. If we’re stepping into new territory, then we need to do it together. The first two Adaptathons, which looked at Alliances (or partnerships) and Diversification have already brought these themes into the conversation.

And, of course, it’s a long-term process in which we have to marry our traditional strengths – great strategy, a real grasp of purpose, allied to creativity – with new ones. There’s a lot of shiny new toys out there, but we have to remain faithful to our core skills too.

Caitlin Ryan, ECD of the Karmarama Group, put this beautifully when she talked about blending two different types of creative: creationists, who instil work with strategy and purpose; and evolutionists, who work in beta mode, and use real-time data to optimise work.

That sums up the new era for me: purpose and performance working together.

Charlie Rudd from BBH talked eloquently about creating customised performance dashboards for each client so that real-time performance metrics are baked in to the way work is created and evolves. Charlie’s point is that getting the work out is just the start of the process: looking at the dashboard, agency and client then deciding how to optimise that work and move it on.

If you do this, then you can create a model where experimentation – which means taking risk – becomes part of the norm.

When you start thinking like this, then the world opens out. Which parts can be experimented with? Are there different ways of looking at the problem? Right at the beginning of the ADAPT agenda, we had Jonathan Mildenhall, then at Coca-Cola but now at Airbnb, talking about Coca-Cola’s 70:20:10 risk model.

In the third of our Agility labs we heard from people like Google, Victors and Spoils, VCCP KIN and Trigger Social about new ways of doing things. We might want to involve people with a different creative slant, like YouTubers. Some of what Victors and Spoils does in the area of crowdsourcing moves us towards virtual creative departments bookended by a strategist and ECD.

There’s no one model. It’s about looking at new ways of doing things.

We might also want to look at how media agencies are doing. In some ways, their revolution may be further down the road. The rise of programmatic trading forces them to be more agile. They are using data and technology to package up new products and tweak campaigns in real-time. 

One of the keys will be how TV evolves. As media go, it’s not as agile currently as, say, digital out of home or the press. That will surely change, but we just don’t know how yet.

The need to be agile also forces change on to client and agency structures. For agencies, it’s about being fluid, but mindful of the need to maintain quality without compromising on speed and flexibility.

Clients also need to look at their approval processes. Either, the big decision makers have to be available at the key points to make decisions – and there are a lot more decisions to be made, and quicker – or they need to push the decision-making process further down the chain. Either way, that will lead to change.

And as we move towards producing and adapting work based on real-time data, that also pushes clients and agencies closer together. If both sides want to know what’s working and what isn’t, then access to data that relates to hard business outcomes needs to be shared. If that happens, then we’re moving towards true business partnership.

This, in turn, leads us towards being able to link performance and payment, where agencies are rewarded, at least partly, on the value they create. It’s unlikely that we’ll move to a system that is totally based on value achieved or outcome: more likely is remuneration based on a combination of risk/reward, time, and value. 

I’m optimistic we’re moving in this direction. On July 8th, the fourth Adaptathon looks at just this subject where we’ll be engaging with clients, procurement experts and agencies and looking at how we can experiment.

Just discussing this subject openly and in the round marks a step forward. I get the sense that everyone in this debate is up for something new.

To book tickets for the next Adaptathon on Performance contact conor@ipa.co.uk