Gideon Spanier was right to call out the spate of leadership changes and pressures facing the media agency world right now. Yes, the landscape is brutal, yes, brands expect and need more than ever. And yes, change is totally the order of the day – agencies are used to continual change in any case – and some of us are facing this head on, with success.
Admittedly, some of the largest groups have struggled to keep up and have been too slow to adapt. Instead of rising to the increasing challenges clients are facing, they’ve become too introspective. They have spent their time and energy building scale, commoditising their role and function. Their focus has been on what services and operating model works best for them, rather than what’s right for their clients. Brands have had to adapt and fit in to the agency model, rather than the other way around.
Many of the agencies and their holding groups have been unresponsive and inflexible, losing sight of real client centricity. They haven’t been asking their clients "what works best for your business?" and then putting a process and structure in place to deliver exactly that.
Quite simply, some groups lack the agility that is needed now more than ever. When big media agency networks have multiple competing P&Ls, across multiple competing disciplines, and have spent the past years focusing on a level of scale that is fast becoming irrelevant, how can they expect to offer clients anything but a stagnant and outdated media offering?
It’s high time for evolution and a focus on the agency network of the future that needs to join the dots between media disciplines much more quickly, especially as clients move towards taking more control internally. This in turn necessitates a more agile and flexible mind set in agency-side leaders and organisations. If brands are unwilling to be tied into the longer term contracts of yesteryear – again, Spanier hits the nail on the head by spotlighting archaic constructs like CRR – and ad agencies are having to get used to project-based work on a more flexible schedule, then it only makes sense that media agencies will have to do the same.
The onus is on our industry, and particularly on its senior management, to deliver true client centricity and entrepreneurialism. To be free to deliver against KPIs in whatever way works best – and that the client prefers. With the need to reinvent how agencies operate from the ground up, and with more focus than ever before on trust and transparency.
We need leaders at the forefront of our discipline who are empowered and can act as catalysts for change. More specifically, we need senior people who are more open to ideas, models and more entrepreneurial ways of working, coupled with a responsive and flexible corporate structure that enables and encourages this type of approach.
And this means they have to be unshackled by rigid network structures and politics. They need to be empowered to make decisions, quickly. They need to be able to adapt at speed according to their clients’ needs. They need to be able to work in an environment that enables them to be true leaders – both agile entrepreneurs and collaborators. This was a big part of what attracted me to IPG and, notably, its energising open architecture philosophy and culture.
It’s no surprise that some senior people are finding this hard to do at the bigger networks, leading to a recent flow of talent to other, more nimble agency groups and models.
The recent flurry of departures, consolidation and accusations highlights these pressures but we’re not all the same; some of us are adapting, embracing both agility and fresh leadership styles, and we’re starting to reap the rewards.
Caroline Foster Kenny is EMEA chief executive of IPG Mediabrands