In early 2020, several issues were bubbling under the surface for agencies: inflated organizations, brands moving away from the benchmark agency model, accommodations, consultants, publishing consolidation and a lack of diversity. .
The agencies felt their relevance was diminishing and they started to make changes – not necessarily very quickly, but there were signs of progress.
Then the rest of 2020 happened.
When the pandemic struck in the spring, the agencies’ mission became survival. Many people have lost their jobs – Forrester predicts that number will surpass 50,000 by the end of the year – and small declines in income have become major wins. Week after week at Adweek we had the depressing and unenviable (and frankly difficult) task of telling these stories.
Then, the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other black Americans exposed deep-rooted problems in the country and in the industry. 600 and up, for example, has charted the way forward for diversity, equity and inclusion. Then, The Richards group scandal– when founder Stan Richards called a Motel 6 concept “too dark”, triggering an exodus of customers, he took a long step back.
Where we are now
Now, as we head into 2021, there is no feeling of what would be called ‘calm’, but agencies have a better idea of what to go. The stores have figured out how to get skinny. They have a renewed sense of purpose. And new opportunities, especially in e-commerce, present green shoots among the ashes.
“People who adapt win,” says Michael Kassan, founder, president and CEO of MediaLink. “Agencies have not always been very good at adapting, but they have no choice. It is the proverbial need to be the mother of invention.
Some may be outraged at Kassan’s comment, especially smaller and more nimble agencies. But it underscores the fact that agencies need to regain their relevance to brands.
And that’s where the clock is ticking.
Agencies have a lot to do, but 2021 feels like a year of tweaking, prioritizing and recovering the plot in which they are such a valuable resource for brands and their success. The good news is that some of the most powerful skills in the agency world, especially when it comes to creativity and strategy, can help raise the bar. And rethinking talent and prioritizing DEI, something stores sometimes struggle with, can open up greater opportunities for agencies.
Where we are going
While 2021 represents something of a reset, agencies still need to deal with the trash of 2020 and quickly address priorities. Adweek presented nine priorities to consultants who work in the agency space every day and asked them to rank them in order of importance.
Creativity, strategy, “talent, leadership and culture” and OF were in the top four. These are the lifeblood of the industry and point to a prediction: With the right strategy and creative performance, driven by strong talent in a strong culture, agencies can thrive.
Agency consultant Peter Levitan says the agency world “has lost sight of the fact that [creativity] is its most important advantage.
“What most clients can’t do in-house is develop and deliver great creative ideas that move the market,” he says.
Much like Levitan, Greg Paull, director of R3, believes that it is essential to return to a strong creative production, bread and butter agencies.
“With 500 million people blocking ads, creativity has become more important than ever,” he says. “Nobody expects another Nike message, but when it comes from Colin Kaepernick it resonates and gets through. Deep thinking matters more than ever. “