Don't blame rise of consultants - lack of freedom is holding agencies back
A view from Ed Cox

Lack of freedom is holding back agencies from embracing change

Scale and legacy have become a disadvantage for network agencies, according to Ed Cox, who is leading an independent media agency start-up.

Accenture Interactive raised a few eyebrows with its prediction that consulting-agencies (or "cagencies" as they’ve been awkwardly coined) will dominate marketing services in the coming years.

It’s clear the agency landscape is set to change, but disruption will come as much from start-ups and small entrepreneurs, as the big consulting and tech firms.

Most vulnerable to disruption are, of course, the players that currently dominate. But as networked media agencies grapple with the need to rebuild trust with their clients and face off the disintermediation by Google, Facebook et al, they lose sight of what clients hired them for in the first place: to communicate meaningfully and effectively with their audiences.

Fundamentally, media planning is not moving as fast as the audiences it’s chasing.

Media consumption habits have radically changed over the last few years, but most media agencies still don’t deliver campaigns that display a deep understanding of the mindset of today’s audience.

Why? Because these agencies have been honed to focus on the channels that make them the most money or are the most convenient to deliver, regardless of the creative route or the audience they are meant to be targeting.

In these instances, scale suddenly becomes a disadvantage.

Legacy structures with large teams that specialize in a single channel are no longer fit for purpose as clients demand more integrated thinking and more generalists on their business rather than a collection of one-channel specialists.

The other barrier to change is the legacy commercial model.

Agencies that make money according to how much or where they spend the client’s budget simply can’t change or adapt fast enough.

The radical restructuring of agency operations that we’ve seen only leads to poorer customer service as clients are shunted from one team to another - and the resulting brain drain compounds the situation.

That’s why, increasingly, clients are seeking out more bespoke approaches, mixing and matching how they use agencies, consultancies and taking more and more in house.

They are fed up with the cookie-cutter solutions and let’s not forget that, trust, once broken, takes a long time to rebuild.

Agencies need to get back to what clients have historically relied on them for - developing a deep understanding of culture and audiences and making marketing communications that cut through.

Media and creative need to come together again, much earlier than they currently do, to deliver audience-centric planning and channel-agnostic execution.

Because of the proliferation of channels and ever-changing audience behaviour, agencies need to embrace diverse talent from outside from outside the world of advertising such as film, music, art and design, TV and publishing.

I’m lucky to be working at an independent media agency that belongs to a wider collective of creative businesses, and it’s that access to talent and unconstrained thinking that clients are asking for.

With independence, comes the freedom to behave differently, to plan and buy media differently, to enter into new types of relationships with clients, and the ability to fit into the diverse operating models that are springing up.

Not many agencies have this freedom to adapt and evolve with the times, and it is this lack of freedom, rather than the ascendancy of the consultancies and digital tech giants, that ultimately threatens the health of the agency sector right now.

Ed Cox is the founder of Yonder Media