What’s the biggest threat to the agency model?

The theme for this year’s Digiday Agency Summit was “hacking advertising,” and for many of the speakers at the event, that simply meant trying to find innovative ways to keep ad agencies relevant.

The digitization of media has fundamentally changed and, in some ways, threatened the traditional agency business model, much as it has affected publishers. The proliferation of platforms, tighter deadlines, heightened client expectations, competition with Silicon Valley for talent, and the industry’s perpetual diversity problem are just some of the reasons that have many believing the agency model must adapt or die.

Digiday asked agency leaders at this year’s summit, “What’s the biggest threat to the agency model?”

Kirk Cheyfitz, CEO, Story Worldwide
Reality. The agency model is frankly worn out, as is the media environment that spawned it 40 years ago. And it needs drastic reform so clients can quit dealing with 18 different agencies and deal with one that can tell a coherent story on a number of platforms.

Geoff Cubitt, co-CEO, Isobar
Ad tech is biting up at the agency model, certainly for the media buying agencies. The tech players are saying to clients, “Hey, do you really need an agency?” I would be concerned if I were in that space. There will still be a role for media agencies, but ad tech could be transformative.

Kat Gordon, founder, Maternal Instinct
The culture of paranoia between agencies and clients. It makes agencies feel replaceable and creates an atmosphere of fear and scarcity, that there’s not enough work to go around. You end up working yourself to death, and women who want to have children can’t commit to the hours. Agencies aren’t able to work under conditions where great work is possible.

Mike Margolin, director of audience strategy, RPA
The inability to adapt to fast-changing expectations from clients. Clients are more strategic and they have more MBAs on the marketing teams than we’ve seen in the past. There’s just an influx of people on the client side who want to dictate the brand vision. Which is good, but agencies have to earn their seat at the table a bit more. A lot more client strategy is done in-house.

Jim Cuene, vp of marketing strategy, GoKart Labs
The lack of bold leadership. Most agencies aren’t pushing marketers to answer the hard question: “Aside from your campaign, what are you doing to grow your business?” They should be pushing them to explore new marketing models.

Baba Shetty, chief strategy and media officer, DigitasLBi
Clients are adopting a culture of data faster than agencies are. It’s easy for agencies to say that data is important and to point to a few analytics people sitting in the corner, but to create ideas built around those insights, that’s another thing altogether. Clients are looking at it more from a point of view of effectiveness. The craft of advertising is still separate from data in a lot of places.

Image via Shutterstock


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