Last year, the change was forced on agencies. While stores struggling with a suddenly distant workforce, clients were pulling or halting their ad spend while asking agencies to reconfigure campaigns and messaging to ensure relevance.
The change will come this year, of course. But it will be more useful, as agencies, armed with lessons learned from 2020, will double in value to marketers.
“Next year clients will get real about growth and agencies will get real about what it takes,” said John Harris, CEO of Worldwide Partners, a network of more than 70 independent agencies.
According to Harris, a recent study found that a third of members are introducing new models of working with clients, while 42% identified a new agency model as the main post-pandemic challenge.
While the approaches vary, industry observers agree that agencies will prioritize eliminating outdated staffing models and addressing areas of expertise.
Changing of the Guard (Talent)
Agencies go change the way they seek and use talent this year. Freelancers are expected to be increasingly sought after as agencies tap into a flexible talent network as needed and cut costs, crucially.
We Are Rosie, a network of freelance marketing, said the number of freelancers placed on projects and the hours worked more than doubled year on year between 2019 and 2020. The industry’s shift to job-based assignments projects is further fuel this trend.
Marla Kaplowitz, president and CEO of 4A’s trade and advocacy group, said that while small independent stores are used to project work, research indicates that larger agencies will embrace it this year as well. “It’s much more difficult to predict what the workflow will look like on a project basis. You have to have a core group of people and then you have to be able to attract and remove people as you need, ”Kaplowitz said.
The people who make up the core staff of an agency will become more important within this structure. Harris expects agencies to invest in senior teams that are ready to “get their hands dirty.”
“We need to focus on the top talent who are able to have a conversation around the business, not just the campaign,” Harris said. “You’re going to see flatter organizations in the spirit of delivering this senior talent.”
Agencies like Highdive are the pioneers of this model. Founded five years ago in Chicago by two longtime DDB creatives, the boutique offers the hands-on expertise of its founders while tapping into a larger independent network if needed. The Highdive model landed two Super Bowl commercials last year.
Marketers are also coming out of a year of budget cuts. Last year a Gartner Report advised marketers to “forecast future budget pressures” instead of betting on rebounding budgets. For agencies, this clearly means illustrating how they can help brands grow. Harris said they can achieve this by drawing on their areas of expertise.
It is true that housing leads nowhere; Kaplowitz said it’s “ubiquitous” at this point. As a result, she says, agencies have realized that they “don’t have to do it all” and therefore focus on what they are best placed to offer.
The Gartner report found that marketers primarily bring social media, creative production, and content marketing in-house. Despite this, Jay Wilson, VP analyst at Gartner, said that “the big creative idea and branding is still agency-dependent.” Agencies that can demonstrate their expertise in these areas will find it easier to prove that they are invaluable.