Last week of what can be described mildly as a turbulent year for the industry in general and for some of us in particular. There have been learnings. And things to come to terms with, whether we like it or not. One of which is that legacy is no longer a reason to sustain, or even survive. I am talking about agency client partnerships here.
Let’s go back in time. Easy for me with twenty-two years to rewind to!
From the keepers of archives (better known as guard books to some of us), to being brand builders, we did it all. The expertise of strategically led creativity was understood, respected and led to market results. Teams prided themselves in innovations making it to case studies and iconic work.
The bedrock was trust between the client and agency. The heads of both organisations would challenge, debate, discuss as equals. The agency came up with solutions that created categories, busted myths, penetrated new markets and produced powerful imagery and stories that wedded us to brands as consumers.
The change started much before we became aware, recognized and accepted it. When the going is good, we often make the mistake of turning a blind eye to change signals, until they turn into headwinds, throwing us out of gear.
The crossover from media commission to retainer. A number that is based on the value of time invested by resources on the business. Except that, value is subjective, if not defined in a watertight manner. Potentially leading to fewer resources doing the same or more work.
The pressure on numbers, leading to performance by quarter, if not by month, for both clients and agencies. Meeting numbers at any cost means short term tactics, questions and lack of faith on anything long term, despite the knowledge that brand building is both “a marathon and a sprint.” (Was part of a panel on this, incidentally and it was a divided house).
Exodus of industry talent to new age tech-based companies. It is not just about the paycheck, which is significantly better in most cases. It is about playing a new game that comes with the respect, swag and results that the industry was used to. It is about new, flat structures and agility of processes and output.
Misplaced sense of confidence in most traditional agencies, that led to indifference and discounting of both the pace and the harbingers of change, led strongly by tech and data. The confidence came from being the seat of creativity vis a vis number crunch, while data and tech sparked off pioneering solutions in innovations, micro targeting, leveraging the new screens, identifying and deep diving intobuying systems and behavior and AI led solutions. This resulted in clients opting for forging new partnerships, which, on the back of smart data, could mitigate the risks of an adverse ROI. The attempts to venture into these unchartered waters by some traditional set ups were/are feeble. A training in digital, hiring talent with digital experience, acquisitions of some digital set ups. Not enough to be seen as the new age, agile solution providers.
Losing hold of the consumer pulse.
This, to me, is the biggest fall out. Agencies, particularly planning teams, were the bridge between strong consumer insights and integrated solutions on business and brands. I remember being mandated to complete a preset consumer meeting targethours. We travelled with client partners. Two factors led to this strength diluting over time. Three actually.
A) Client do not have the earlier travel budgets and agencies are too strained to invest B) Access to data and screen led quick research have replaced a lot of the earlier rigour at both client and agency end C) Shortage of good talent in planning and strategic thinking, for the industry. (why this is happening warrants another article).
GUT led marketing
The ageold marketing led by gut, cases of brand campaigns never being researched has given way to data based, measured decisions. For the experienced, it is a huge positive, as it means using numbers to verify the gut. For the young entrants, it means no training ground for honing these skills and relying much more on data.
Stories come from the gut. From intuition that has been sharpened over time and consumer understanding. Lack of faith in intuition means compromising on leaps of faith that has led to some path breaking work. It’s not one over the other but both data and creativity working in tandem.
The best way would have been the coming together of tech led services and solutions with powerful creativity.
But that’s the ideal world. And not easy to implement.
Conflicts are many.
Experienced Vs Youth, Legacy Vs New Age, Digital Vs Creative agencies (this one I can’t understand), Content Vs Traditional creative (again, this shouldn’t even be a debate), TV Vs YouTube, and of course, who has a more trusted seat at the client’s table.
So, the new year promises to bring in new partnerships, alliances, break ups and restructures. There will be tradeoffs. Impact on careers and morale.
Experimentations that may go haywire or lead to powerful set ups of the future.
But,change is always for the better and the year ends with renewed hope and optimism.
Raising a toast to trusted partnerships and work that defines who we are.
(The author is managing partner at WPP GTB India. The views expressed are the author’s independent views as an ad professional and do not reflect the organisation’s viewpoint)