Media change or die

In a recent Campaign article, Group M's Nick Emery said media agencies were dead or dying. Is this overly dramatic or do agencies have to reinvent themselves to maintain a place in the advertising market of the future?

Here five industry figures from varying media backgrounds blog for one week about what the future has in store for them. The spelling and grammar mistakes are all their own work.

4 June 2007, 1.59am

Greg Grimmer wrote:

I've always regarded Nick Emery as a media man with not only a brain but also a sense of humour and a taste for the limelight. His "Death of Media Agencies" comment had an element of all three of these traits. After a hiatus of a number of years I started attending conferences again this year. A varied myriad of events from the Venice Media festival to the Google ZeitGeist in Watford.

The common denominator from all of these was the positivity of the media brethren from those Global CEO's running holding companies to the newest keenest entrepreneurs who have launched themselves into one of the many different facets that are now described as "media".

4 June 2007, 3.21am

Simon Francis wrote:

I can only speak for OMD but I don't think we're feeling very dead or dying - in fact not the remotest bit peeky. On the contrary the best agencies are thriving, but do media agencies have to keep evolving? Doh! For sure.

Will the best agencies be the ones that evolve fastest? Yup again. Will the agencies that best tackle the Gordian Knot that is digital and data, and add a splash of great content creation be the best? Yes.

So, in between the Emery hyperbole, he's probably right in part. The best agencies will evolve fast and be better. Other's may die. Who decides who's good and bad? Clients and their "influencers". Its a shame we don't have a client to comment on this.

4 June 2007, 8.01pm

Nick Brien wrote:

Well well ... here we are, discussing our fate as media professionals. Now, I will have been around for the longest and, of course, Simon is the wisest and Greg the funniest. When I started in the media business, the industry expectations were modest but the opportunities tremendous. A combination of entrepeneurs and creative strategists seized the independent business model and the industry changed forever. And it will continue to evolve or die. Dying is part of life and if some agencies and business models disappear, c'est la vie.

The digital reality of Web 2.0 is the clearest threat to any legacy buisness model and certainly, there is no room for complacency or navel gazing for any established player. But on a most positive note, who is better suited to operate at the intersection of technology, consumers and brands if not us?

5 June 2007, 12.35am

Simon wrote:

There are a lot of Digital heritage agencies, DM heritage agencies, PR heritage agencies, and even "Creative" heritage agencies that might disagree with Nick that media agencies are best placed to evolve the fastest and most successfully. The point about agency evolution is that no-one has any "ownership" over anything - the past is the past, and the future is the future - only the strongest performers today will do well.

I've been interested about some of the creative pitches featuring DM heritage, and/or digital heritage shops. I'm sure Freuds et al would welcome a chance to get on these pitch lists too. Should there be a time when a media heritage agency competes in its own right, for running and directing an account? Or, is the Sage of Shoreditch (Pollard thats you mate) already doing this, and just not telling us about it?

5 June 2007, 2.11am

Nigel Sharrocks wrote:

Largely agree with Simon's earlier post - certainly not dead or dying - feeling very good about the future. He also ticked all the right boxes - digital plus data? For sure. Content creation. Yes, please. Not sure about evolution - will that be enough?

Truth is, I'm convinced that nothing less than a complete revolution will do. Will there even be such a thing as a media agency in five, ten year's time? Possibly not. Will we need to find completely new ways to be of value to clients, transform our people and organisations. Absolutely.

This is a fabulously exciting time to be involved in the business of communications. And a media agency is the best possible starting point from which to build the next stage of this industry. Everyone knows that, don't they?

5 June 2007, 2.21am

Greg wrote:

Think Simon makes a good point about agencies pitching outside their comfort zone. Glue, Agency.com, Cake and EVEN Naked (that should wake Ivan up?) are better then most media agencies at blurring the lines of pitching. I hate the use of the word "heritage" though - makes us sound like a load of stones.

5 June 2007, 2.34am

Greg wrote:

Just to throw some questions out there. How would everyone describe ZED? I'm lucky enough to run an agency that is both expert in direct and digital but we don't yet rule the world.

Am I hamstrung by our ownership? My background? ZED's heritage? In fact can we as media agencies, reinvent ourselves in our current form? Does Centre Achete Radio Affiche Television need a revolution to survive? I'm inclined to agree with Nigel that gentle evolution isn't enough but aren't we looking for a Spinning Jenny not a Little Red Book?

5 June 2007, 11.07am

Simon wrote:

Greg, I really don't know how to describe Zed - for once words fail me. I did a biology degree a long time ago - I was crap at it, got a third - what I do remember is that evolution ISN'T a slow steady thing. It's actually a short set of spasms that occur when something mutates horribly. That short of better describes what's going on in the digital/data mind-warp better than a revolution doesn't it? Anyway, talking of horrible mutations where is Ivan?!!!!

5 June 2007, 4.02pm

Nick wrote:

I agree with what Simon's earlier pov that digital strategy and data driven solutions will be the future; a world of refined behaviourial targeting, content customization, message optimization and improved measurability. But I fundementally believe that this data-driven digital world is a double-edged sword. The biggest unexploded bomb under the entire Internet foundation is privacy. Yes, we can re-invent our buisness models, hire new skill-sets, develop new competencies to sell but the fundemental Web 2.0 issues still remain. Thoughts?

6 June 2007, 12.18am

Simon wrote:

Privacy issues are very, very real but that's an industry and government level conversation isn't it? The daily issue of CREATIVITY may well be the advantage that separates companies, brands and client companies. Take two brands - both have to subscribe to the prevalent privacy regulation - and who have the same behavioural targeting capabilities, who wins? I'd have to believe the brand with the best brand idea, and the best means of expressing it, will triumph.

6 June 2007, 3.46am

Greg wrote:

On digital and data I see these issues first hand. My absolute mantra is that this makes us Real Business Partners for the first time. We must however get clients to pay properley for the analysis required to do this work properley. It is also a possiblitiy that it doesn't sit with creativity in future? I argue the opposite.

Nick from a US perspective I'm always intruiged by the fact that the US media agencies failed to grab paid for search as a channel, is it still true that this is dominated either by clients buying direct form Google? Or using independent SEM's? This is the digital channel where holding the data is key and results are tangible. I spend more time worrying about this than anything else (but also try and get my teams to think creatively!).

7 June 2007, 5.57am

Campaign wrote:

(pasted up by Francesca Newland on Ivan Pollard's behalf)

Gentlemen, apologies for joining in late. It is the story of my life - get there late, realise I have missed the good stuff, add little and then exit disappointed. So let's see if I can break the cycle and contribute.

I have been enjoying myself in a hotel in Croydon for the last few days with Sony clients from all over Europe and internet access designed to match the architecture of the hotel - seventeenth century.

Incidentally, to Simon's point about mutations, last night, one of those clients described me as a demonic cross between Gollum and Norman Wisdom so I guess I have to agree that I do represent the horrible side of structural evolution.

So, from that perspective, let me chuck in some Naked perspective. Dead and dying? I agree with most of you that death is a necessary by-product of change and boy, do we need to change. This is not just about what we do but about the foundations that underpin the way we do it - the agency business model is not fit for purpose and the future belongs to those with a different structure, capability, route to market, financial set up, revenue model and all the other things Peter Doyle tried to teach me. The model is wrong. It needs to change.

Evolution is the wrong word. This is not about the random mutation leading to the survival of the fittest. I am with the fat Belgian monk who went up against Darwin. Adaptive evolution is a much better description ... none of this is random. It is all about reading the environment, adapting to be better than the competition to capitalise and rising to the top. In the world of Darwin, winning was about sex, food and power. In the world of marketing services I suspect it is about the same things. The difference is that our survival depends on a symbiosis with clients. They have the power to decide who survives.

So the key to this adaptive evolution is understanding what clients value, what they are willing to pay for it and who they want to buy it from. And you had better believe that they are changing as fast - if not faster - than we are. Looking around my Croydon cage, I see that everywhere. Truth is that all of us are in a positon to change and take advantage.

The game is the same as it ever was - defining strategy, uncovering insights, generating ideas, producing assets, distributing messages and measuring results. All of us media, creative, digital, data and even dating agencies can have a crack at all of this value chain. Some will specialise, some will generalise but all have to deal with the fact we can do this better, faster and cheaper than ever before whilst the value of doing it brilliantly is greater than ever before.

Most of you have pointed at the 'untethered' agencies like Naked as being protagonists in change - and sure, we are doing some incredible stuff that falls inside and outside the scope of all the old agency models - I should know, I have worked in most of them. The fact that we are is exciting but so is loads of the things that all of the media and digital agencies are doing. I worry about the creative agencies. They are not stepping up. Come on guys, you are brilliant but you have to get back into the game. Some of them are (like Fallon) but others seem to be struggling. Why?

And, of course, one of the most exciting things is the way ordinary people are now getting involved in this extraordinary process. Anyone remember the film Ordinary People (actually, it's Crazy People - Ed) with Dudley Moore writing ads from a mental institution? Well it is here. Check the film out and you will see what I mean.

So, it would appear that I agree with most of the things most of you have said - apart from Nick, which is not unusual in itself. Death is an over-statement. Change and radical change is needed. And not just from media agencies. All those creative, direct, PR and digital agencies built on the old models look unfit and flabby. Change or decline. It is your choice.

This is natural. It has always gone on. If it hadn't, we would all still be wandering around in doublets, tights and eccentric cod pieces. Whilst that would no doubt suit the immensely attractive and buff Mr. Sharrocks it would just leave the rest of us looking like dicks.

7 June 2007, 7.54am

Simon wrote:

So, we're sort of agreeing that we must change, and that data, digital and content are the nexus of this change. Ivan raised some great points about the process, route to market, and payment too.

There's an old joke that goes Q. "What's the best way to Tipperary?" A. (in an Irish accent) "Well Sur, I wudna start from 'ere!"

What I mean is, we as a group have identified the problems but not the way ahead yet. What should the ideal client service "agency" (if that's still the right word) look like now? Parking our respective organisations relative merits as much as we can, what disciplines should be "in", how should it be structured, how paid, and what should it produce? Clearly, no one size would fit-all but it'd be interesting to see what you all think. What woudl the start-up of start-ups look like?

7 June 2007, 10.49am

Nigel wrote:

Blimey Ivan - I thought this was meant to be a blog, not an essay! None of you would know this, but I still only change out of doublet, tights and codpiece for client lunches. Selective adaptation, in other words. In business, though, I'm becoming more of a (rational) radical by the day. 'Change or decline' - I couldn't agree more, Ivan. A few days in Croydon has clearly crystallised your thoughts. Maybe we should all try it?

Yes, there are flabby business models everywhere you look. An unholy alliance of technology and procurement will not allow them to persist. Reinvent your business or find yourself in the business of managing decline. There is no Third Way, and it doesn't help that we've allowed the business we are building out of to be commoditised, with fees to match. We have to tackle this issue with as much gusto as we bring to grappling with the fantastic opportunities presented by the New World.

Notwithstanding the fine collection of brains contributing to this online thought-fest, it's what we actually DO that will determine which category our respective businesses will fall into.

Now excuse me while I loosen this ruff.

8 June 2007, 2.16am

Greg wrote:

Ah the payment issue. How we will all end up killing each others businesses. The best £100 I have spent at Zed was printing a ratecard. Not only does it lay out the list of services we offer it also points out to marketing directors, auditor and procurement officers that it costs us as a business a different amount to create, porject manage and report on a mobile marketing campaign than it does to run a National press campaign.

The rise of the multi-national media agency heightens this issue as clients look to equalise payments across markets. The "wouldnt start from here" analogy is a good one.You wouldn't find many VC's backing a media agency start up. What I think the challenges of data and digtial have given us is another chance to charge properly for our people's minds and efforts.

8 June 2007, 4.15am

Campaign wrote:

Well, you're all clear on a need to change, but into what?

There were no more responses posted.



Job title: Partner, Naked Communications

AKA: The Shoreditch sage

Key credentials: Does his thinking on a unicycle

Thinks: Success lies in "adaptive evolution"; listening to clients and changing accordingly


Job title: Worldwide chief executive and president, Universal McCann

AKA: Big global cheese

Key credentials: Thinks big, acts big, is big

Thinks: Media agencies should take the lead in the Web 2.0 world


Job title: Chief executive, Aegis Media UK & Ireland

AKA: Wise uncle Nigel

Key credentials: Seen it all before

Thinks: All change please. Revolution is required for the successful agency of the future


Job title: Managing director, OMD Europe

AKA: Cross-border media whizz

Key credentials: Thinks a lot about "creative media"

Thinks: Creativity will separate the wheat from the chaff


Job title: Managing director, Zed Media

AKA: The digital networker

Key credentials: Understands online world

Thinks: We need a "Spinning Jenny, not a Little Red Book".