It’s no secret the marketing and communications industry is going through a prolonged period of transformation. Agencies are struggling to re-invent and re-structure themselves to keep pace with the increasingly commoditised demands of client teams and CMOs under pressure.

 

Unbundling to re-bundling

15 years ago, the rise of specialist agencies was driven largely by the impact of digital.

A new set of rules came into play along with a requirement for agencies to embrace new channels and consumer behaviours, assimilate new skillsets and ditch their reliance on tried and tested marketing orthodoxies.

This resulted in the fragmentation of larger networks into a loose alliance of complementary disciplines and specialist services. Shopper marketing, social, content mobile and beyond were all housed in one building but driven by separate P&L structures. It was a somewhat flawed model, but it delivered practical and operational benefits for global marketing departments and their de-centralised stakeholders across multiple countries.

 Dealing with one integrated agency group with one commercial agreement in place made life easier for procurement teams too.

With the shift in the industry from ‘digital marketing’ to marketing for a digital world, the pendulum seems to be swinging back towards the re-bundling of services, especially for larger agencies – from Mullen Lowe’s ‘Hyperbundled’ proposition to WPP’s shiny, new ‘One Ogilvy, One P&L’.

 

A case of Emperor’s new clothes?

Perhaps, but with a more informed, holistic, connected approach. If they can figure this approach out, integrated agencies should have a happy and healthy future. Some may say agency networks sought to achieve this, but the connectivity needs to run deeper.  

Yes, new competition from traditional consultancies repositioning themselves as agency is a significant threat, but over the long term which client is going to hand over the end-to-end management of their business to one supplier? 

Integrated agencies need to work with consultancies more and more, as things connect up. There's a tension between cohabiting as 'eco-system partners' while also competing against each other.  

 We understand the specific business value of creativity. So how do integrated agencies maintain ownership of that creative partnership that’s becoming the life blood of their clients' business?

 The answer lies in agencies learning to take on new roles:

 

  • The Data Geek

Integrated agencies should be the one to help clients to interpret their data. With so many niche products and services available, it’s very easy to be persuaded to invest in the latest data gizmo. Professional services businesses have a head start here, but data increases the scope of creativity, so at its core, data compiling must start with creative intent.

  • The Innovator

Play with technology to solve business problems and then share them with your clients.

 

  • The Collaborator

It’s clear that no one agency can effectively offer and deliver everything to clients. Stronger, more resilient integrated agencies have built an established, non-partisan ecosystem of suppliers and specialists to collaborate with, in order to deliver solutions that are bespoke to client needs.

  • The Competitor

Competition is no longer chessboard-style tactical plays.  Learn about, standardise and offer the products and services your clients regularly want from your suppliers.

  • The Partner

Take risks with clients and share in the equity. New strategic, creative alliances with them pop up and need to be understood and grabbed. 

  • The Creative Architect

Yes, ideas are central to what we do and have the power to change things where all other things fail. The last word should and always will go to ideas. 

 

Download the B2B Agencies Benchmarking Report 2019 here.

 

by George Butler

 

George Butler is a digital strategy director at Radley Yeldar. When he’s not at his desk labouring over the next great digital strategy masterpiece, you can find him whizzing down Great Eastern St on his bike.

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