The World: Insider's View - France

The growth of digital services is transforming the make-up of agencies and the structure of regional networks, Shawn Burns says.

The marketing world is evolving at a breakneck pace, fuelled jointly by changes in consumer behaviour and the ever-increasing power of technology.

The consumer is moving entirely to "on-demand" activities, demonstrated by the growth in DVDs, personal video recorders, iPods and broadband connections, putting them in control of what media they consume and when.

From my chair in Paris, it is obvious how this growth of digital services challenges not only the skill-sets we bring to the table, but also the way we look at our regional networks. In previous years, agency success was achieved at the hands of two or three really well-performing functions. Ideas were primarily creative-driven, with effective account and production services required to deliver the campaigns. In 2006, to deliver anything of value in the digital space requires a functional designer, digital studio, technical applications group, quality assurance and project management, not to mention an accessibility expert to ensure the work is aligned to the needs of the hearing- or vision-impaired. The agency staff of the future looks nothing like what we consider an agency to be today.

Growing an agency digitally in a market such as France requires having a healthy mix of local clients and global clients whose work needs to be adapted. We see a lot of large companies locally appointing a roster of two or three agencies for digital work and then directing their marketing teams only to work from that list. Provided the agency can embrace the project-based nature of these assignments and evolve to deliver strong online experiences, double-digit growth numbers are once again within reach.

What's most interesting in the digital shift is what global and European clients want when they appoint regional and global agencies.

In the digital space, as clients have become accustomed to speed and transparency, they are asking their agencies for a centralised approach.

In a traditional structure, local agencies were attempting to be smaller versions of the home office, duplicating functions with smaller teams.

As the work moves digitally, the agency structure is becoming "hub and spoke". This means fewer offices maintaining a critical mass of digital skills, with the rest being on tap to fulfil more basic adaptation needs.

In Paris, where our clients expect us to have a deep bench of digital skills, our focus is on the search to find enough qualified people. This means we have to refocus our efforts on taking care of employees in terms of benefit packages, training and career development. The digital age makes the statement "people are our most valuable asset" truer than ever, as anyone who has tried to replace a good functional designer will attest.

- Shawn Burns is the managing director of Wunderman Initiative.

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