Natalie Lyall
Digital Transformation
What clients and agencies can both do to future proof their business

What does the future of the agency, and the advertising industry at large, look like? In a Campaign360 panel called ‘What’s your worth?’, marketing executives from both sides of the agency/client divide sat down together to explore the role of each player in an era of disruption, transformation and hybrid models.

One problem is that there aren’t even a standard set of definitions for what all of these new things mean exactly; interpretations of transformation can vary from agency to agency, making it harder to put the right metrics around business outcomes. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” says Leigh Terry, CEO (APAC) at IPG MediaBrands.

And it’s not just advertisers facing the imminent impact of transformation. “Every single business is undergoing some level of disruption,” says Anita Kanal, VP of Consumer Marketing (APAC) at Visa. “Clients are facing the same level of change as the big agencies are.”

Go back to basics and remember the customer

Pierre Robinet, Senior Consulting Partner at Ogilvy Consulting Asia, believes that too often we get bogged down in conversations about technology and process, and forget what is really important: the consumer. “We need to look at business strategies from a different angle, and start from a customer standpoint rather than an industry one,” he says. “When it comes to transformation, a lot of consultancies will begin with technology, but you need to start from a place of consumer understanding.”

The client relies on the agency to bring them the best technology solutions, with the best understanding of their desired results. The key here is deploying technology in such a way that it is frictionless to the consumer. Too much technology can encumber this outcome, says Kanal: “When data and creativity come together so beautifully that it’s almost invisible to the end user, you know you’ve hit your goal.”

Finding the right context and applications of technology, and avoiding the lure of technology for its own sake, will be critical to the agency of the future. This is where the consultancy proposition enters the picture; working to understand exactly how and where technology can bring value. For instance, Robinet believes that the benefit of artificial intelligence is not simply that it offers the ability to automate tasks at scale. “What really matters is teaching AI to detect patterns that will help you achieve your business ambition, to detect the things that will completely change your strategy and improve customer loyalty, satisfaction and retention.”

Invest in talent as well as technology

With automation one of the hottest topics of conversation in the advertising industry, Robinet posits the notion of an “augmented strategist”; somebody possesses the knowledge, competencies and tools to have a huge impact on the way agencies do business. “We need to anticipate automation, and provide continuous learning to our workforce,” he says.

And as agencies continue to build capability around specialist areas, steps also need to be taken to ensure that talent is not only nurtured, but retained. “Agencies have historically invested the least, from an L&D perspective,” says Joanna Catalano, CEO (APAC) at iProspect. “As a specialism-driven business, we have a lot of great talent, and we want them to stay.”

The client/agency relationship is more important than ever

Every part of the supply chain is under pressure; budgets are being slashed, and clients are squeezing every bit of value out for their shareholders in the same way that agencies are. “There’s a natural tension in any business relationship,” says Terry. “If we, as agencies, cannot demonstrate our value effectively, not only should we not be paid what we want to be paid but we probably don’t have the right to exist.”

The panel agrees that everything they do is, ultimately, in service of the customer. Reaching the right person, at the right time, in the right medium, requires all parties to work together, and remembering this is what will make brands be loved, remembered, and appreciated.

“Agencies and clients are all in this together, and that’s what I’d like the conversation to be,” says Kanal. “The data will change, the technology will change, but I would love for the conversation to be about the bigger things that are affecting all of us.”

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