The World: Insider's View - Australia

Stop this distracting soul searching and deliver your clients results however you can, William Leach writes.

We're having a debate Down Under that is a mirror of similar conversations happening all over the world. It centres around the demise of "traditional" agencies and new versus old agency models.

There has been a development in Australia, which I believe is the first step in helping to settle the argument and refocus agencies on solutions rather than problems.

At a recent Advertising Marketing & Media Summit in Melbourne, clients entered the fray. A testy exchange between agencies debating whether or not the traditional agency model is dead drew an immediate response from clients attending the event. The gist of their comments was that they are bored of agencies' petty arguments and simply want partners who deliver great results - whatever the model. Clients believe agencies would do well to focus on their customers' needs rather than their competition.

I think they are right. The issues for Australia's agencies are flexibility and skill-sets. Many have a structure driving their service rather than the flexibility to suit their customers, and many more simply lack the skills in-house to provide the service their clients require.

Agencies traditionally drew their strength (and their place as real partners to their clients) from a genuine understanding of the consumer, and this is a key ingredient that seems to missing from any debate over "models".

The successful agency of the future will not be successful based on its organisational structure, its "integrated" offering or "media-neutral" solutions, but on its consumer knowledge and, more importantly, its knowledge of where and how consumers get their knowledge.

It was once a given that much consumer knowledge was gained from watching TV or reading newspapers and magazines. But that is no longer a given. Consumer consumption of these "traditional" media is now non-traditional - via streaming, mobile or the internet - and "softer" knowledge sources, such as blogs and social websites are seen as more reliable than the "manipulated" mainstream.

The opportunity in this lies in the array of new and exciting ways to engage the consumer. In the "old" world, Australia punched well above its weight in creative executions for "traditional" media. We've seen some signs in recent Cannes Cyber and Titanium successes that indicate Australian agencies are capable of rising to the challenges of engaging consumers in new ways.

So perhaps we should try the novel approach of listening to our customers and focus on what we do - delivering great results - rather than arguing among ourselves about the how we do it.

- William Leach is a former chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi Australia and a partner of The Leach Partnership in New South Wales.

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