It’s been a fascinating 6 months; 6 months in which I decided to take an active interest in agency matters. OMG it’s been an eye-opener, and that’s without the intrigue and politics and of course the diversity debate.

6 months has pretty much taught me what I thought I already knew; that in general agencies haven’t changed at all (since my days!) and that whilst clients haven’t changed in themselves, they have most definitely changed what it is they want from their agencies. And never the twain is meeting right now!!

So what’s wrong?

In the many articles I’ve read, and conversations I’ve had, there are recurring themes. Trust, partnership, transparency, understanding (of each other), how to save money (client), how to make money (agency) and experience (cough, ‘diversity’) are all on the list. It just seems that clients are looking for ways to reduce reliance on agencies and the best way at present is ‘in-house’ with ‘faster, cheaper, better’ implementation As a result traditional agencies are struggling to get so much as a look in, whilst also being encumbered by the terror of ROI. Trad creative agencies are struggling with fewer pound notes, whilst being expected to deliver brilliantly planned work in order to bring the relationship alive. It can’t, and doesn’t, work, for either side.

But we’re all in it together. I’ve spent the last 10 years client side. In my experience I would say that clients (no surprise here!) want what they they don’t have in-house, brilliant insightful planners and great creativity. On the other side, agencies want to plan and create brilliant, award winning work. So both sides want the same thing!

Simple. Problem solved. Unfortunately not!

So, why not? What’s the big idea! (got there in the end)

The age of Martech is embedded into the industry, is here to stay, and will get better and better, easier to use and cheaper to run. Automation already brings fantastic opportunity for clients to DIY their marketing and communications and many have transformed already in their desire to own delivery and implementation. I reckon, by the middle of the next decade, even the most backward FMCG brands will be controlling their own destiny when it comes to implementation. Of course, this won’t come for free, but it will undoubtedly be a saving in comparison to paying a 3rd party.

But, as a counterbalance, here’s the not at all surprising fact: There will always be something that clients can’t, or indeed don’t want to do; I’ve already said it – they want brilliant planning, backed up by solid data/insight, and stunning creative. This, they are willing to pay for. Ultimately, and it goes beyond communications strategy and content, clients want the ‘Big Idea’.

What’s the Big Idea?

For me, it can be defined as marketing strategy that transforms the client business. Client’s spend isn’t just about their comms (and making adverts/content); they have pillars of spend which all fall under the auspices of ‘big idea’ – brand planning, innovation pipeline, R&D, brand architecture, culture, corporate, shopper, partnerships, supply chain, manufacturing etc. The Big Idea infiltrates the entire business and all behaviors and actions appear to fit around it. Examples would be Red Bull (Gives You Wings) and Tesco (Food Love Stories).

The Big Idea is owned by the client and if correctly delivered should become part of the framework of their business. And this is where agencies can win. By engaging on the right level, they will gain clients that trust them, who want them involved in the business, with the brand, across the multiple platforms, in delivering great campaigns to willing consumers (and customers, and employees!). The Big idea is more than just an idea; it’s a transformative process with its foundation in brilliant planning, backed up by great intelligence, and stunning creative (I really don’t mind repeating this over and over!).

But let’s be a little cautious, as I’m not simply saying clients should allow agencies ‘in’ at an earlier stage of the business planning cycle and all will be rosy, because whilst this would actually be an ideal solution, sadly, right now agencies no longer have the resource with the experience to sit in those meetings and contribute meaningfully.

And we go back to the beginning…

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