Traditional Agencies and the Importance of Being Relevant

Change is inevitable and the one constant among a universe of constants that is destined to be changing perpetually. Business models once thought to be permanent, only needing occasional refinements, are learning that nothing is forever, and in today’s fast paced technological era, nothing is forever for very long.

Legacy advertising agencies, historically a model where marketers hired well established teams of “Mad Men” types to create thirty-second television commercials and high-gloss magazine pictorials, are finding that even their vision has to change. To resurrect a familiar automotive advertising tag-line from the past, “It’s not your father’s Buick anymore.”  A long time industry veteran and CEO of Speakeasy Guild, John Winsor, recently said, “Advertising agencies are no longer the valued partners they once were.  In fact brands don’t really even need agencies anymore.  It’s not just their work that’s losing relevance; the ad agency business model itself may now be defunct.”

Like many other industries, advertising agencies of the future will find it necessary to become far more focused on their client’s need to satisfy their customers and less around the brand or the channels utilized to connect with consumers. Digital has disrupted the status quo of every market player’s business model, creating new pathways to consumers, opening up the market to new competitors and instilling significant and challenging innovations in organization and methods at an ever increasing speed.  Mark Read, CEO of WPP’s Wunderman and of WPP Digital says, “We’re going to need to be much more accountable to our clients for results, by which I mean sales. Part of this means we need to use technology and data to track our work to sales. It also gives us the opportunity to build new capabilities and expand our offer into e-commerce.”

At the mega brand PepsiCo, Brad Jakeman says, “The most effective creative will come from the integration of content creation and distribution, and greater in-house content publishing resources. For a brand like Pepsi, it was once sufficient for us to produce four pieces of content a year — mainly TV — and we could spend about six to eight months developing that one piece of content and spend $1 million on each piece of film. Now, those four pieces has turned into 4,000; eight months has changed to eight days and eight hours; and budgets have not gone up. Maybe [we have to publish] so quickly and efficiently that it needs to be more of a content-publishing group that sits inside the company and augments the work done through [agencies].”

What is required of agencies to remain relevant to its clients? Arthur Sadoun, the new CEO of Publicis, says “……”clients have three challenges: low growth, pressure on costs and a need to restore trust in their brands. All three are forcing them to transform their businesses and change the way they deal with customers. This is a race. It’s a race to be relevant. The big difference between today and yesterday is speed. You need to be much faster on the execution.” Mr. Sadoun is now faced with the cultural challenge of integrating and scaling up this business model.

Marketers and agencies are racing to get ahead but given the quick pace of technology – it’s a head to head challenge many are finding difficult to encompass. Julie Gareleck, founder and CEO Junction Creative Solutions says, “It is clear that we are in a new world and a new era. We have to adapt to entirely new marketing channels, make important decisions every day on how to invest our efforts and capital in utilizing new technologies in order to compete on an expanded global economy. Our firm was founded on a hybrid approach – valuing strategy and execution.  You need to be able to show value in terms of dollars, as opposed to just the number of overall impressions.” To Gareleck’s point, the impact that traditional management consulting firms have on the life of agencies is evident.

What is happening in so many industries today is a real game changer. It won’t be enough to tweak the old model around the edges. Agencies who fail to identify the new dynamics in the environment and react in a timely manner risk being left behind.

Vision Alone Didn’t Put Man on the Moon

It was a time of great promise and anticipated opportunity emerging from a sustained period of relative world peace and prosperity after the former decade of world division, war and unparalleled human atrocities. With the threat of another decade gravitating towards a return to the mistakes of the past it was a time for new leadership, one which predicted great things and unimaginable triumphs into the remaining year’s of the 20th century.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave a historic speech before a joint session of Congress that set the United States on a course to the moon. “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” For those who lived in the time, the proclamation from this new young leader of the free world left little question as to what kind of leader he was to be.

Many people use the term “visionary” to describe the kind of leader they are, but fewer understand what is required of the visionary leader to succeed at achieving their vision. Whether leading a nation, state or business venture, visionary leaders retain important skill sets and personal qualities that separate them from those who are idea generators and who leave the minutia of the journey to others. True visionary leaders possess charisma, a state that Merriam-Webster defines as a “personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty.”  “It is a natural attraction that draws people to the leader and the leader’s enthusiasm.”

Visionary leaders are most often the chief organizer and risk taker; are never satisfied with the status quo; are consumed with making the future a better place than today; are accepting of change and optimistic about the future and achieving the success of their dreams. But most critical, visionaries understand and believe that strategic planning is at the core of achieving their journey to success.

Strategic planning is an organization’s process designed to set forth goals and objectives, creating a plan of action based on known facts, reasonable and flexible assumptions and allocating given resources towards the accomplishment of the ultimate objective. The visionary leader defines the strategic process and what it will resemble into the future and how it will function. Such leaders aren’t authoritarian or dictatorial, but seek to provide the freedom to believers to determine the best path to success.

History has shown that the most effective leaders in business or government are often not the best educated or intellectually gifted, but have unique skills and personal characteristics like enthusiasm and drive that is directed to achieving a goal no matter how seemingly challenging or improbable. They attract others with the talents to set the journey in motion, make the best business decisions possible and overcome the hurdles to success.

John F. Kennedy, in setting forth his example of a visionary leader, understood that conquering the challenges of space would be determined by winning over the hearts, minds, skills and talents of the tens of thousands aerospace engineers, technologists, educators, wrench turners and dreamers who were willing to buy into the dream, believed it was possible, follow the plan and work tirelessly to be part of the ultimate accomplishment. In the following of the 21st century, new visionaries in business and industry like Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others are refining what it means to be a visionary by influencing the ordinary among us to do the great and impossible.

“A visionary is a leader of excellence who sees what others do not see, who achieves for now and plans for the future, which positively impacts different generations and rises up other visionaries.” – Onyi Anyado.

Vision alone didn’t put man on the moon. What kind of leader are you?