Agencies – Then and Now

Remember the good old days of advertising? The ones that are shown on Mad Men?

I don’t. I’m 25 and have no idea what it was like. But I’ve heard stories. Lot’s of them and they usually have some consistent themes:

– Creatives ran the world (and the agencies). Account management was ensuring that your team showed up at a scheduled meeting.
– Budgets were not an issue; you could propose a wacky brand idea, fly around the world to shoot it and return with more party stories than you could imagine (and a decent spot).
– Time wasn’t a problem. Deadlines existed, sure, but you had 4-6 months to create a campaign, approve it and push it live. And with only 3 major TV stations and a few papers, execution was pretty frigging simple.
– There was only one ROI metric that mattered – sales. If things were good, relationships were great. There was no research, no “key message takeaway” studies and certainly no focus groups.

What’s changed? A lot.

– Budget and time are a big issues no matter which client you work with (typically the standard combination – more executions in less time for less money)
– Creatives are still vital but are now part of the total system – along with strategic planning, production, digital strategy and technology
– Clients expect less flash and more results. Less talk and more sales. They expect agencies to prove it.
– Marketing budgets are more focused to very specific objectives – not “brand building”
– We can no longer look at what worked 10 years ago and fit it to our brand.

Agencies can’t cheat as well as they used to. Digital strategies are emerging everyday and if something worked 6 months ago, it might not work tomorrow. Agencies have to be able to adapt and feel comfortable creating campaigns that have never been done. They also have to manage the millions of conversations that are happening about their brands.

Things are different. But I think that in the next 10 years the agency model will be stripped and rebuilt. You’ll either be a strategic shop or a production one. The best – of either model – will still make good money. But the average ones that are just getting by won’t be around for long.

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