SXSW 2017 Session: Can Agencies Lead Again?
The Preston Kelly agency in Minneapolis hosted the, “Can Agencies Lead Again? Meet Up” at SXSW 2017. This intriguing meet up filled up fast with standing room only and people from around the globe. The meet up discussed the factors that contribute to a successful or failed client relationship among agencies. Naturally, the conversation covered a wide variety of topics such as talent retention, changes in how agencies and clients work, and how people in the advertising industry have changed. Here’s our recap as well as our formulated responses to the topics that were discussed. A few hit close to home while others remain far-fetched.
Is Creativity Valued?
The first topic of discussion was based on what value can agencies give clients? In the old days, it was creativity. However, technology has gained much more ground in what agencies are providing. Has technology replaced creative?
Agency Entourage Philosophy: We believe that creative strategy plus technology is the new “creative.” The most successful marketing campaigns in the last five years have been great creative with killer strategy that leverages modern technology. As an agency, we are also consultants who help guide our clients as we help them explore modern ways to communicate.
Talent and Specializing
“What is the soul of an agency if not the collective of its talent?”
More and more small and mid-sized agencies are using freelancers and the sharing economy to produce projects. This can lead to work that is more surface level and the client doesn’t necessarily think the agency knows them.
Many agencies have found they don’t have the right talent and that’s why they look to other resources. Too many agencies are trying to do it all to be considered full-service. However, clients are starting to realize that there’s no depth. The field has gone so broad that you can’t be the best at everything.
It’s important to specialize and be the best at what you do. The agency’s reputation will grow from that and the talent and clients will follow.
Agency Entourage Philosophy: Every team member at Agency Entourage strives to be the smartest person in the room. Intelligence can’t be replaced, outsourced or commoditized. We build value for our clients well above the normal call of duty which ensures our long-term relationships with our clients. Sure, we’re full service but we’re also innovators, testers, think-tank idea generators, and brand builders. We do know when to call in our reinforcements but we also remain the masterminds behind the execution. This further establishes the partnerships we have with our clients rather than being looked at as a vendor by our clients.
More on Managing Talent
Broad title roles and agile problem-solving teams have become a trend in the agency world. This means people have a broad skillset and are hired to work on a range of project types from development to video to content and more. What some agencies are starting to see is that this leads to trial by fire. They are given a project they don’t necessarily have first-hand experience in and fail. Some agencies have tried this and gone back to specialized roles.
Agency Entourage Philosophy: Our agency has always believed in specializing in skill-sets where we diligently require continuing education (e.g. Google Analytics, Google AdWords certifications, Search Engine Optimization trainings, etc.). Over the years, we’ve held dedicated positions for many subject matter experts to understand the nuances of their craft. And that’s just it, it’s a craft! The talent at Agency Entourage lives, eats, and breaths their craft because we just geek out on stuff like that!
The Strategist is Dead
This session also eluded to the idea of having one strategist at a small agency or one strategist on an account is silly. Everyone working on the project should be awake at the wheel considering strategy as the work progresses.
Agency Entourage Philosophy: It’s important to be careful with this line of thinking. Without strategists, we would all become too close to the work and develop the “can’t see past the end of your nose” syndrome – which can produce some very bad results. There is a level of truth to this however and that’s having a lazy strategist at the wheel who has no skin in the game when it comes to execution. But it is a dangerous and risky play to completely remove strategist roles from the mix. Just try to find someone that actually works on the work too.
Living the Brand is Important
One of the issues agencies and clients also face is the fact that the role one agency used to fill is now fulfilled by multiple agencies. So now being the agency of record is very rare. Back in the day, agencies would have an embedded person for the client who lived and breathed the brand and learned everything there was to learn about the business. At some point along the way, agencies have started to feel like this is an inherent part of the business and they can’t charge for it anymore.
Furthermore, it’s very hard for small and mid-sized agencies to act like big agencies. They can’t dream up the wildest, biggest ideas and execute them at scale. However, they can go after mid-sized businesses that generate lots of income, but they are expected to learn the brand and business and don’t charge for it. This sets the agency back at the very beginning of a client relationship.
Chances are if you work at inside an agency or have worked side by side with one, you have run into these types of issues.
Agency Entourage Philosophy: Our agency is fully dedicated to its clients and their brands. We are always happy to be working with other agencies as well because it usually enhances or compliments whatever it is we bring to the table. We don’t find that clients are as demanding about brand or product knowledge because they often employ someone internally to be a subject matter expert. At Agency Entourage, we remain the expert in all things marketing and advertising where the client remains the expert in the brand. We’ve found this is the best formula for our client relationships and engages the right people to do incredible things!
So, the burning question remains, “Can Agencies Lead Again?” The answer is yes but not without the smart client who values their agency relationship and treats them like a partner instead of an order-taking vendor.