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Monday, 24 January 2011




I wrote an article on the future of the digital agency for B&T, an industry mag here in Australia. I was focussing more on the Australian market but some of the points resonate with yours. Especially about retaining IP and charging for it, innovation coming from places other than advertising and the future being in loose collectives of specialists.


It's a massive challenge when we start to move away from campaigns or 'chunks of communication' to long-term community management and service design. Even ignoring the agencies, it's a huge shift in the way marketing teams work within organisations. Most are not even equipped to think in terms of service design and they need to be...


Amelia, Great post and I like your list and the end of the post and particularly like no.5 - people who don't work in the office.

I find I do my best work & thinking when out and about, amongst the consumers we are tying to understand and influence, and also in front of clients - feeling their pain about this brave new world.



I especially agree with your #3.

the best future for ad agencies is to break away from the antiquated past and embrace new a fresher models which allow breakthrough thinking and work to be debated and created.

(welcome back by the way!)

jem tw

spot on Amelia


Welcome back Amelia

Agree with all of that! and although I didn't see the debate last night, it sounds like it is starting with big questions about the wrong industry. We're not in the business of making 30" films any more, we're in the business of making entertainment and culture. So it is funded by brands, but then so is the entertainment and culture served up through any traditional media channel. It's just that there's less barriers to it now.

The best agencies around at the moment are Google, Sony Music, Baby Cow and ASOS - Discuss! (ok, that last one's a client)

Sam Reid

Upfront apology for the gratuitous self publicity (sort of), but we've been gnawing away at the bones of our model for a couple of years now.

This post nails a lot of personal viewpoints esp. channel proliferation and always on stuff.

And certainly agree that a lot of people simply don't want to work in an office too (esp. the really specialist ones)

Our 'collective' model is throwing up lots of challenges but we're starting to see patterns emerge and understand where to find the sweet spots. The best way to learn is to do so we're just cracking on.


Hi Amelia, Great post btw, its true, new ways of collaborative thinking are required and quickly too. In order to a) keep the clients happy and avert their roving eye and b) compete in an increasingly competitive space which is more and more run by procurement and not marketing... In response to your very dilemma (which we had early last year), we have developed a future focused model within our Boutique Media Group Addiction Worldwide. We offer a fully integrated service to our clients and as such they enjoy a very different agency experience to the norm. Its more collaborative, accountable, swifter and results driven and clients see this as soon as they start working with us... We are a group of small independent agencies (not a network or indeed part of a network), each in turn owner operated, but safely and effectively ensconced within the parent group. Collectively we offer our clients a wildly integrated experience and are able to tackle pretty much anything they need or we wish to as a team. We outsource very little indeed, there is little or no waste. The future needn't be depressing Amelia, quite the opposite, its potentially a breath of fresh air, as long as you work with entrepreneurial and innovative thinkers and clients who are prepared to try something new. Currently many are (including us) and we see this trend continuing both in the EU and NA (our two main territories of trade, although we have clients in LATAM and Australia as well). Its a very exciting future that will see smaller, collaborative, potentially privately owned, entrepreneurial and adaptable shops grow (but not too big!). I hope this helps lift your spirits!? I salute your numbers #1-5 Amelia and would (with respect) submit for your consideration 6) more collaborative people and 7) more entrepreneurs, although these may be covered off by 2) madder people!, many thanks indeed,
Jeremy Rainbird - CEO - Addiction Worldwide


Good food for thought. I agree that for all the talk about the future of agencies the real fundamental issues that will facilitate real change are (surprisingly) rarely discussed. To pick out a couple which I concur with you on - flexible/adaptive structures, and more agile and iterative ways of working (written a fair bit about both). I'd really welcome more discussion around the stuff that really makes a difference - the way people work day-to-day, how they get rewarded, incentivised, the balance between test-and-learn and single-minded, blindingly-good vision and creativity.

John Dodds

I have to disagree with you on one thing Amelia - that write-up sounds dire to me, an outsider. I'm not at all surprised that you came away depressed because it framed the discussion in the status quo and that's no way to look at change.

Your ideas I agree with wholeheartedly and are already happening both in small companies and, interestingly, in small cadres within BDAs. The latter have a very hard battle to fight and it's questionable in my mind whether they can succeed.

Dan Calladine

"People who can find stories in numbers" is spot on!

Fiona Cloke

Great post. I missed the event too so thanks for the summary. Good points (as always) from @graemewood & @neilperkins amongst others, but I'd throw in the question of skills-building and measurement too. I would argue that this applies to both clients and agencies / talented individuals. Perhaps it comes under madder people,or smaller / more adaptable units that don't necessarily work in an office (certainly not the same office)but whilst at the data / procurement driven end of FMCG at least (IMHO), clients continue to be personally performance rated against the retro 30" ad world and not the always on, long tail, culture and entertainment world, where activity must live beyond the year long tenure of an ABM, embracing necessary change & willingness to adapt will probably remain in many cases like walking through treacle. As a service industry agencies / individuals will need grit and determination to both manage the awkwardness of their own need to evolve and continue to lead their clients forward. Agency success benchmarks need to alter too. I can't remember who it was that coined the phrase "creative technologists" (Neil was that you?) but it rang very true and the ethos behind the term will need to be embraced by everyone in every role, client or brand side. Technology will continue to evolve (fast), but it shouldn't be forgotten that it just provides a means to the age old end of building relationships between consumers, between consumers and brands.If any of us, client or agency side, lose sight of the human insight and motivation we'll never be able to add value to the businesses we seek to drive forward.

Fab to have you back!


for the '...and friends' model to work, we also need clients who are as comfortable with being introduced to 'X who works with us' as 'X who works for us'. In my experience, more clients than you'd expect are quite chilled about this.

Sophie Walker

Hi Amelia,

Thanks for your comments, we really appreciate all the feedback we get. I'm part of the team who put on the event. Whilst last night covered some interesting perspectives from different parts of the industry, we agree the conversation could and should continue. We're keen to carry on fostering the exchange of ideas about the future. Would you be interested in taking part in a follow-up event? Perhaps the areas you suggest could form the basis of this, or at least part of it?

Look forward to hearing from you.
Sophie Walker, IPA


Love the 'And friends' idea. So is the future of the agency role about being popular perhaps if you follow through with the analogy? If I had to teach someone to be popular, you'd probably start in two places - either empathy (having a good antennae for what other people are thinking) or nonchalence (not giving a flying fuck what other people are thinking because they have their own ideas). Kinda like a Michael McIntyre versus a Keith Richards. McIntyre reads (the culture through observational comedy), Richards leads (the culture).
Hang aboot, isn't that what we've got already (or at least every agency says its got)?

Thomas Wagner

First of all hello (it's my first comment here) and thanks for highlighting the issue.

Lot of smart things already said and I definitely agree with you, John Dodds and Neil that the fundamental issues are rarely discussed and also with 4 of the 5 points you mention.

I am not so sure however, that it's necessary to have people who don't know or care about the Saatchi&Saatchi in the 80s. It might be because as a student I am myself very interested in historical issues, but I also think that history (and also the history of marketing and communication), also going past the 80s to the time when communication was still more of propaganda can prove extremely helpful in understanding society, culture and what has changed while other things stayed timeless. I agree that you wouldn't want to have people who want to do 80s ads, but a better eye for history and ideology (as Holt describes it) would help a lot of agencies.

As for the business we're in, I can't get myself to fully agree with the view that we're solely in the entertainment and culture business. Yes, a big part of it probably is, but I still think we're in the business of 'business', or as Rob Campbell likes to call it, the "creative end of commerciality".

Kirk Cheyfitz

Glad that someone on Twitter directed me to your post. Yes, the discussion you attended sounds depressing and a bit blind. I run a (mostly digital) agency with offices in NY and London (among other places), but I happen to be on the board of the Future of Advertising Project at The Wharton School of Business. The discussion there is about new, effective ways to measure engagement, digital disruption of old patterns in advertising, the ascendance of long-form content, the need to bring value to an audience, the convergence of marketing and publishing, the end of silos in marketing, the need (as you point out) for an almost-infinite set of skills in creating new media, new views of media strategy around paid, owned and earned -- and so on. You might be interested in a piece I just wrote for Huffington Post that touches on some of this. http://huff.to/gIJrY2 Thanks again for an engaging post.

Pablo Edwards

Great to have you back! She comes back with a home run!


Wow! Lots of comments, obviously stirring up some emotion. Good work rocking the boat Amelia.

I do find it interesting how self-obsessed the ad industry is. Also how completely and utterly confused everyone seems about the present and the future.

Here's my thoughts for what it's worth.

I think the real challenge for 2020 isn't for advertising, it's for brands and product managers. This isn't at all a new theory. Since the early 90s when people began to use 'social media' (remember usenet/bulletin boards?) to share their opinions about brands/products with each other, advertising's ability to distort the truth and create sales has been declining. Mad Men days are over.

Advertising will always be needed to amplify and make new people aware of a product/brand, but the product needs to be considered good by common consensus. It really doesn't matter if you spend a fortune on media, engage folks, drive them into the 'purchase funnels' etc.. if they see a bad review or their friends don't like it.

A great product doesn't necessarily need ads with clever creative, story telling, spin or huge media spend. Yes it helps, but how many Facebook ads have you seen? Or Groupon? Even Apple who do have a huge media spend because they need to sell huge volumes quickly, even they focus on the product and let it do the talking. We're in a time where good products are beating good/big advertising.

If I was a betting man I'd say the ad industry in 2011 will be driven by whoever understands real-time analytics and data best. Take a look at what sites like buzzfeed.com, facebook, youtube etc.. are doing behind the scenes. These sites don't care what your creative director thinks is the best treatment, they use the data on what people share and respond to the most and then optimise the creative and the media to get the best results. Smart algorithms are already producing better results than planning/creative guesswork.

So if the computers will soon be better than the people at optimising the media and creative to deliver results, where does that leave agencies? Will clients want to pay big fat agency reatiners when the technology will do the job for free? And don't think social media will save agency land, brands will soon realise (if they already haven't) this needs to be handled by in-house specialists not by ad agency interns.

The ultimate end point might be that agencies just become creative production shops who create branded assets based on guidelines generated by the computers, because the computers can crunch the data better. Of course lots more assets will need to be produced so they can be thrown out for real time optimisation so that will no doubt drive down the cost of production and commoditize the industry.

So going back to your points, I would say...

1) Absolutely. The internet could further flatten the playing field to break grip of agencies. Imagine as a brand manager being able to choose your content producers using an automated ebay style bidding site judging teams on cost/performance. It already exists. Cost aware procurement depts and investors and startup brands will drive this.

2) Not sure if this is the best word! :) I wouldn't want mad people working on a brand I'd invested in. I'm assuming you mean risk taking and yes risk taking/innovation will be important. I think what will remain valuable is the ability to think latterly, create beauty, inspire, understand emotion etc.. basically all the things the computers struggle with.

3) Wow really?

4) People struggle with that, computers excel.

5) I could write a book on this (I might do at some point) but plenty of evidence points to the fact that work rarely happens in the office. Obviously teams sometimes still need to come together physically, but technology means we are no longer constrained by the rigid formats of time and location that are currently in place for the vast majority. The cost, wasted time, and environmental damage caused by the current model will force a shift.

I'm really excited about the next 10 years. As an ex-agency person about to begin launching products, I love the fact that it's become much easier to connect directly with consumers using cheap/free technology. I love that big brands are struggling selling inferior products. I love the fact that consumers ignore advertising and trust each others opinions more. I love that I can source good value production companies directly from anywhere in the world. I love that media owners will optimise it for me and make it super-easy to self-manage things. Will I need an agency to help me with any of this? I'm not sure I will.

And if I'm thinking like this then I'm sure that some of the smarter marketing folks at big brands are. Or maybe they will be soon when they see more agile upstarts taking their market share without the need to outspend them with advertising/media. So maybe you guys should be thinking about the future quite hard?

Or I might be wrong. But let's keep rocking the boat it's brilliant fun.

James Cherkoff

Madder people?

john winsor

Great post. The future of advertising is wide open. What a wonderful time to be in the industry.

I feel lucky to be here.

Mike Berry

Amelia - very interesting post; sorry to hear you came away from the IPA event a little depressed. I certainly wouldn't say that's the prevaling emotion in Adland currently. Sure there are challenges, but we're meeting lots of people in big and small agencies who think this is the most exciting time ever in the business. It's certainly a bit scary and tomorrow’s agencies won’t look much like agencies did in the '80s but then neither will Heinz or Nestle or Ford look like they did in the last century - nor should they. Digital and recession have disrupted and transformed our industry but there will be as many winners as losers. Agencies I talk to, big and small, established and start-ups, are busy restructuring, adapting and evolving to meet the rapidly changing needs of their clients, who need their guidance, insights and ideas more than ever. In 2020, as always, the most successful agencies will be those who build long-term, mutually profitable relationships with their clients. Which of course the Saatchi brothers (and their Friends) always did rather well...

Mike Berry
Aprais UK

Amelia T

Blown away by the quality of quantity of the comments left here. Real food for thought, so thank you everyone (I have tried to email each of you individually to say thank you properly)

I am enormously excited to be working in this industry at this point in time - the challenges are huge but the opportunity for real creativity and meaning huge too.

I'm working with Tracey our head of planning to refine the thinking here and take in the comments. A feature out of this post should be published in Campaign the second week of Feb.

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