Ad agencies dying, just as they become vital

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We’re all too busy to notice it, but marketing is creaking under the pressure of modern marketers’ needs, according to Tom Goodwin on 

“I wrote last month that advertising needs to become more ambitious again. It stems from our day-to-day struggle to operate in a marketing machine that wasn’t built for this. So how do we rebuild the foundations of our industry and create a machine that’s built for the future?

“Our first mistake has been to create complexity. We’ve arranged ourselves in endless new vertical silos that hamper us when it comes to working more closely and the free flow of ideas, each with our own profit and loss centres, client leads, language and ideas.

“With the splitting of creative and media in the 1960s, we set a precedent in making ‘digital’, then ‘social’, and with every other new device channel or technique there is a new unit to manage. At a time where messages and media working together has never been more vital, where technology becomes the glue for every part of marketing, where mobile isn’t a channel but a horizontal, we’ve created barriers for reasons that we can no longer remember. It’s a legacy of an irrelevant past,” Goodwin writes.

“We’ve also become obsessed with short-term thinking. When we once lived on our gut feelings, and on vitally important, slow-to-move metrics to shape our activity, now we chase the daily meanderings in ‘likes’, ‘shares’, click-through rates, and ever more immediate but pointless metrics. The modern age sees ever more data, faster fads, shorter lead times, and always-on, real-time marketing of endless tasks that swells to fit the day. Our focal point becomes the next few hours, urgency trumps importance, and the opportunities of the future fade into the chaos of the now. Thinking of long-term existential threats a brand may face, or massive opportunities of the future, is a luxury for another day.”

We need to reimagine marketing
The first step in reimagining marketing, says Goodwin, is bringing every single marketing discipline and role together: everyone in the entire world of marketing. From retail to customer relationship management (CRM), branding to PR, SEO, media planning, experiential, product design and more. Everyone in marketing is now a block of skill waiting to be reassigned.

Second, we banish the words digital, media, social, content and mobile. For these words to have meaning, there would need to be a world of non-digital advertising, marketing with no content, or an action that isn’t social. We’d also need the concept of something that wasn’t media.

We then forget about all existing ways to slide marketing; channels are concepts that make no sense in an age where the name of the device no longer correlates with the media channel. When you watch TV on your phone, and read magazines on a tablet, no channel makes any sense.

We need media, creative and technology to work together. We need to think of new ways to connect.

How do we advertise in the notification layer? What media do car screens or maps become? What new platforms await?

Three agency types to maximise results
But how do we slice this amorphous blob of amazing? We should start not with ourselves and how we got paid in the 1960s, but by looking at other people and how they experience campaigns, which is by time. I’d love to see merely three agency types and three client owners designed to safeguard and maximise results over different time periods.

Visionary agencies would be a group of innovators, technologists, futurologists and business strategists; they’d spend their time focusing on activity two years ahead and beyond. Their scope would be to improve the products/services made, on branding, positioning, and on understanding the future of marketing.

Brand agencies would be the closest agency to what we consider advertising today. A mixture of talent across all current agencies, to include PR, and some retail and talent from all new technologies, their job would be to build brands and classic upper-funnel activity. Their time horizon would be three months to two years. These are artists that design and shape the brand, and then produce ads and marketing to tell that story, and build brand equity.

Performance agencies would focus on the next two months. Their scope would be to understand how to tweak marketing and communication tactics, how to use automation, clever SEO, retail out-of-home advertising, flow advertising, creative optimisation, real-time marketing, short term PR, promotions at retail and many other tools to perfect the conversion of equity into sales, or in other words, largely lower-funnel activity.

We rarely talk about time in marketing, and when I do, it’s about agencies that promise to work faster, a dangerous game when clients are looking to cut costs, and we get paid by time. However, I’ve been massively buoyed by the work of Karmarama in London, which looks to model itself as a dexterous agency, able to focus on both the long and the short term, and an agency with one profit and loss across channels.

I accept the vastness of change this approach needs, and the new problems it creates, but I’m convinced that reorganising around how people consume marketing is a fundamental design principle to work towards.

Tom Goodwin is the CEO and founder of the Tomorrow Group. You can follow him on Twitter @tomfgoodwin

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