Evolve or Perish – The Darwinian Theory of Agencies

In the ten years that I have been running my agency one thing that has been truly constant is the pace of change. We have seen the rise of web 2.0, eCommerce, eCRM, the birth of social media and its rapid rise to mainstream media status, the growth of user generated content and now it’s all about mobile, the semantic web and Big Data!

One thought that is always nagging me, or perhaps driving me, is that both my grandfathers and my father owned and ran successful businesses in industries that no longer exist due to technical innovation. So how do we make sure that we survive, how do we make sure that we have an industry to pass on to our offspring?

We have seen a steady evolution over the past 20 years as the media landscape has changed – gone are the days of SP, DM, Advertising and Digital definitions. However, this change is accelerating. Even newish specialisms like Social Media seem to be already outdated.

The pace of digital change is exemplified by the adoption of iPad, the fastest ever adoption curve. They sold 67 Million in the first quarter of this year. It took 2 years to sell that many iPhones and 6 years to sell that many iPods. This and the rapid take up of Smart phones is fuelling the always on, ever connected savvy consumer.

So what will the agency of the future truly resemble? Well despite the plethora of new and old media opportunities (whether bought, owned or earned as we now have to label them), it will still be about engaging with and influencing our core audience to act in some memorable way.

The growing challenge will be trying to do this in an efficient and measurable way. And I think this will continue to be the key opportunity for agencies. Guiding clients through this, bringing experience from multiple sectors, advising them on the best ways to act and then creating the ideas that get cut through and drive results.

There has been a movement for clients to take some of this in-house – especially eCRM, email and Social Media. So we have to continually prove our worth. Part of this is to keep pace and to get ahead of the technological change but more importantly to be able to advise our clients on the commercial applications of this technology.

Much is made of great modern brands that have been created without agencies – Google, Amazon, eBay, Facebook etc. All built through word of mouth and user experience. However, they have all employed agencies to help them build their commercialisation, drive higher revenues and extend their reach beyond the initial points of the growth curve.

So perhaps here is another opportunity especially for those of us who, under the old division of labour, were considered to be below the line. Those of us who understand the “Big” Data opportunities, know how to tame it, use it, exploit it, create ideas from it and deliver relevant, timely, personalised communications – in real time.

Hopefully this will become the 21st Century denomination of services – those who want to own the Data vs those who want to own the pure idea (big or otherwise).

To make all this happen, in this ever increasingly frenetic world, we are going to have to become true business partners with our clients. We need to understand their business models, we need to develop long term relationships.

This means we are going to have to change the way we remunerate ourselves. We seem to have backed ourselves into a corner with hourly rates, offering up easy comparisons for procurement. We need to develop transparent cost plus models with performance related fees for what we actually deliver. This will develop trust and partnership behaviour.

So I believe that we still will have a business in years to come, but excitingly it’s going to be different. Faster paced, more measurable, more digital, more data and more opportunities for great ideas!

By Gavin Wheeler
Gavin is CEO of Direct and Relationship Marketing agency – WDMP, which he founded in 2002 following a long career as a client-side marketer including stints at Toyota, Lexus, Virgin Media and finally at Amazon.com.
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