Agency structure needs addressing : Tim Hipperson

At Cannes this year, our industry’s newest recruit Will.i.am claimed that “Ad agencies are yesterday.” He declared that success now relies on converting consumers into brand advocates – or ‘agents’ as he puts it. Essentially, Will.i.am is referring to effective social media engagement. This is hardly breaking news. It is clear to most of us that Will.i.am’s agency of the future has long since arrived.

Ad agencies have consistently taken notice of the significance of emerging platforms. However, unfortunately, many are guilty of simply paying lip service to them and barely scratching the surface in terms of using them to maximise exposure. Will.i.am’s assumption that the industry has failed to recognise their implications is naive and misguided: in fact they indeed recognised it and actively chose a head in the sand approach. However, our new industry ‘mascot’ has got something right; the traditional agency formula is inadequately prepared for the fickle and fast-paced demands of the online community. Now it has never been clearer that the focus must be on genuinely engaging with consumer communities.

To do this, we need to be introspective – it is the agency structure itself that needs addressing. This isn’t rocket science, but where is the demonstrable change? Traditional industry roles are far too out of sync with the contemporary media landscape. An effective agency structure must work in real-time in order to meet the whims of our new boss – the consumer. This can only happen when data and technology, as well as unwavering flexibility, are appropriately cultivated and maintained.

As I’ve alluded to previously, technology has altered most aspects of contemporary life. It stands to reason therefore that the evolution of technology will be the catalyst for permanently altering the traditional agency structure. The centralised structure of traditional agencies means most are too slow to react to the fast moving consumer – one which has become less brand-loyal and more trusting of its peers. In response, agencies need to be more flexible. They need to make the shift from developing creative executions to nurturing customer communities; from delivering push communications to creating pull interactions; from managing campaigns to facilitating conversations; and perhaps most crucially – listening.

There is nothing better than healthy debate and I think this will be one that rumbles on and on. Let’s hope though it’s not a case of all talk and no action.

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