Are Clients Ready for Agencies of the Future?

People in a meeting

For many of the world’s biggest advertising clients, the emphasis of the big agency pitch has evolved from a focus on the work…to the organizational model.

Clients are calling the shots – and demanding independents and holding companies offer up the Agency of the Future model today. The laundry list of expectations can include:

  • Assembly of skillsets that pivot from pushing messages to delivering emotionally-laden experiences across the entire customer journey
  • Completely bespoke agency teams created from scratch, staffed with the best hand-picked talent
  • Decoupling some agency services and bringing them in-house or sending off-shore
  • Groundbreaking integration of data, technology and customer insights to inform strategy and execution
  • Plus reduced pricing and even financial risk-sharing

So, let’s say that a CMO has successfully selected a holding company to custom-create an Agency of the Future. And, at the same time, generated a set of expectations among the Executive ranks (and shareholders) about the magnitude and speed of the expected marketing impact. That’s a lot of change all at once. And this type of shift often goes hand-in-hand with internal marketing transformation efforts. Are clients really internally ready to succeed with the Agency of the Future?

The risks are enormous: Harvard Business Review reports that 70% of large change initiatives are likely to fail.

Based on Daggerwing Group’s experience working with both clients and agencies on significant agency/client transformation initiatives, there are 5 questions for CMO’s to consider in assessing internal readiness to succeed with an Agency of the Future model:

 1. Will the agency’s ability to transform customer experiences be undermined by our internal silos and employee change fatigue?

An Agency of the Future must look for non-traditional ways to bring the brand to life for customers. This is dependent upon engaged front-line employees and aligning the goals and priorities of other functional groups in the company (such as operations, product design and even finance). The ability to influence those groups may be beyond the scope of marketing leaders.

2. Does our internal marketing talent have the skills and experience needed to manage an agency partner in a new way?

The traditional skills that drove success for marketers in the past may not translate to a new world of using data and cultural trends, daily, to shape marketing strategy. Marketers who are effective at managing campaigns that push out messages may be less ready to manage agency story-telling and selling the company’s POV about issues versus its products.

3. Is there an organizational governance structure set up to hold our team and the agency accountable for change and progress?

The old unspoken divisions of responsibility between the client and the agency are thrown out. If the agency is expected to be 100% committed to a new customized service model, while also working more efficiently to drive savings, it requires very specific RACI models and accountability maps to drive clarity and transparency.

4. Will our marketing processes and culture stand in the way of speed and efficiency with the new model?

Odds are, the expectations for how fast the new Agency of the Future will deliver change are off the charts. Yet enabling speed requires change to organizational structures, processes and culture. Both within the client organization and hand-in-hand with the agency, in ways that break down traditional client/agency relationship models.

5. Is the C-Suite really onside with the dramatic way that customer-centric marketing is going to impact everything we do?

In a world where brands are increasingly defined by how they take a stand on issues, and how the whole company engages customers, disconnects at the C-Suite level can undermine the changes that the Agency of the Future was designed to effect.

When the Agency of the Future and the transformed client marketing team of today are in sync, the brand wins, the business wins and the customer wins. Taking steps to address change management challenges at the start of the new agency/client relationship mitigates risk and sets up both parties for success.

Cheryl Ferguson, President

Cheryl Ferguson, President

Cheryl Ferguson is the President and Co-Founder of Daggerwing Group. With a hands-on background in journalism, creative, brand strategy and digital transformation, Cheryl has helped to develop innovative and engaging ways to simplify and speed up executive decision-making about driving results through customer and employee centricity. Cheryl’s approach busts through executive-level client barriers that can undermine client+agency success – from lack of enterprise alignment on customer needs at every step of the journey, to organizational, cultural, operational and employee communications issues that weaken the brand experience. Cheryl’s passion is live music – most recently transitioning from a fan to a performer in a pay-as-you-go bar-based choir where it doesn’t matter if you can sing well as long as you sing loud and pay the cover charge.


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