Why agencies will continue to thrive in times of media change
A view from Sam Drake

Why agencies will continue to thrive in times of media change

Despite negative headlines, there are many positives, Goodstuff says as it marks its 15th birthday.

In June 2004, I joined ZenithOptimedia as a graduate planner and this month marks my 15th year being agency side. It also, coincidentally, marks 15 years of existence for Goodstuff Communications (named most-awarded agency at the 2019 Campaign Media Awards, pictured). Having worked across both network and independent agencies, I continue to love agency life. 

Looking back to the headlines of 2004, you realise that the only constant in our industry is change.

Zoo and Nuts launched that year, achieving combined sales of 500,000 and transforming the lads' mags market. They shut in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Online adspend broke the £500m mark. In 2019, Barclays predicts online adspend to hit £15bn.

Naked Comunications was headlining the School Reports. With 35 staff, it gained 16 accounts, losing just one. Campaign described the agency as sitting somewhere between "emperor's-clothes-wearing parvenus or genius strategists intent on reshaping the media agency landscape". Naked shut in 2017, but its legacy lives on.

There will continue to be winners and losers over the next 15 years, but from an agency perspective any predictions as to who those will be are futile. However, I do believe there are themes that exist across any successful agency and things that any management team should remember. 

Continue to invest in people

Good agencies offer people a breadth of training across their careers. I feel fortunate to have accessed so much in my time. IPA courses, media-owner initiatives, internal agency training and "on the job" training with clients put us in a unique position to learn from the best people and partners.

This training has never been so important. ID Comms' 2019 Global Media Training Report highlighted that the levels of investment in media training are not up to scratch.

Clients are seemingly not able to follow good media behaviours and, as the knowledge gap increases, it becomes incumbent on us to better educate them. We can only do this if we have the breadth and depth of understanding ourselves.  

At Goodstuff, our investment in training has increased 36% year on year. This is vital as clients seek more technical, operational or functional advice around communications and media. If we can continue to offer the best advice from a position of trust, we will remain an invaluable partner. 

Maintain a positive and progressive mindset

A healthy respect and rivalry exist among agencies. The moment you look at a Campaign news story and say "I wish we had done that" demonstrates that competitive spirit that drives us all.

Among all the negative headlines, there is is enough positive news out there to show that successful agencies continue to lean in to the challenges.

MediaCom, as category leader, delivering growth of 4% in 2018 is hugely impressive. As is its ongoing commitment to tackling mental-health issues that exist in our industry. 

Closer to home, Goodstuff launching G-Force, a trading-only proposition designed for the changing needs of clients and agency partners, is a smart step forward. As is our 39-week full pay as standard for those on maternity leave.

Both examples show how agencies (big or small) are moving on their models and mindsets to remain as relevant as ever for their clients and employees.

With enough smart and positive people within agencies, we must not become paralysed by what is going on around us but rather lean in to the threats, evolve and ensure that agencies thrive.

Foster real relationships

The breadth of talent and personalities in agencies is incredible. Entrepreneurs who have started their own businesses, academic types who can dazzle anyone with smart stuff, data people who can help you make sense of things that shouldn’t make sense and personalities who can develop rapport with clients in a way that can only be admired. 

It’s all seriously impressive and is incredible how "good" can manifest itself in so many people in so many ways.

It is my belief that the best agency folk are "people" people. They stay connected with others across the industry, utilise their networks and have an authority and charm in meetings. It may seem obvious, but this is a competitive advantage that agencies have. 

This is also a warning. As we encourage more flexible and remote working, we run the risk of losing the alchemy that comes out of agencies. It is our ability to get different people with different backgrounds in a room to crack problems that you cannot replicate or automate. 

Whatever the agency size or model, I remain optimistic about the future of agencies.

The landscape will continue to change. However, this transformation has always been part of our world and why I love it. Those who continue to understand what clients want and lean in to the challenges with people who can overcome them are the ones who will emerge and thrive over the next 15 years.

IPA president Nigel Vaz summed up in Campaign how we at Goodstuff approach things: "Agencies’ reaction will come through reimagining challenge… and to act like start-ups to develop new business models." I couldn’t agree more.

Sam Drake is managing partner at Goodstuff Communications