What do agency insiders expect for the year ahead?

The annual Agency Survey gets industry folk to reveal their wishes, plans and beefs with briefs.

brieffinalThis story originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Strategy.

Great expectations
Topping agencies’ wishlists this year was a desire to clarify and align expectations. The single biggest beef is briefs: 39% of respondents expressed wanting clients to provide better and more clear briefs.

Second on the list of priorities at 29% was the desire to attract more business from higher profile and larger brands (however, 12% said their priority was to take whatever business they could get).

Another 23% want brands to be more realistic when it comes to budgets, while 19% say they would like more understanding from clients when it comes to time constraints.

For the most part, brands want the same thing this year as last year. Number one is “more cost-effective solutions,” according to 30% of respondents.

The second biggest client demand was for agencies to deliver “more strategic insight” to their businesses and brands.

The skillset wishlist varied slightly between the two years: fewer report that their clients want “more integration across marketing disciplines” (11% in 2018 vs. 18% in 2017). More respondents than last year indicated that client demands were for agencies to develop “better creative” (9% vs. 6%) and to improve their “analytics and data expertise” (8% vs. 5%).

Agency growth
In 2018, 62% of respondents said their shops grew in size. This was higher than the previous year’s 55%. Another 22% say departments remained the same size (versus 28% in 2017). And 15% reported that their agency shrunk (compared to 12% the year prior).

Speaking of changes: there were more agencies in 2018 than 2017 that grew thanks to a merger. Approximately 9% of respondents say their agency experienced a merger in 2018 (versus 5% the previous year), while another 6% say their agency was acquired.

Almost a third of survey-takers say their agencies were looking to expand mandates from already-existing clients in 2018.

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The new recruits

Hiring took place across the agency board, but in 2018, more respondents (43%) than the previous year (36%) reported jobs being filled in the strategy department. More movement was also seen in the media department this year than last (17% vs. 11%).

While still a significant portion of new agency hires, the digital and creative departments saw less movement between the two years: in 2018, 53% and 39% of respondents reported that their companies hired creative and digital specialists, respectively (compared to 56% and 47% in 2017).

Newly added to the survey, 9% of the respondents say that positions were added to their community and content management teams.

As for the type of work that was outsourced last year, 57% say it was their creative department that primarily used freelancers (down 14% from 2017); while 45% mostly worked with outsiders on production (up 10%); 13% outsourced media planning for the most part (up 6%); and 10% say they primarily used freelancers for strategy (up 1%).

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Platform interests
Almost 40% of agency respondents noticed their clients placed more emphasis online, 31% said the same thing in 2017. Another 18% of agencies reported clients placing more emphasis on social (down from 22% in 2017).
On areas of increasing interest, survey-takers said they saw more demand for shopper marketing (up 2%) and predictive analytics (up 2%) between years.

As for areas that brands were seen reducing spend in, 47% said that fewer dollars were allocated to print by their clients (on par with 2017 numbers), television (39%), radio (20%) and OOH (12%) followed behind – these were all less than last year’s numbers, as a decrease in spend was spread out more across areas like AR and wearables, loyalty programs, multicultural marketing, direct and influencer campaigns in 2018 than 2017.

On diversity within agencies
New to the survey, questions around agencies’ efforts to cultivate diversity and inclusion in the workplace were posed, with 36% of respondents reporting that employers currently track and measure the number of women and visible minorities in their ranks.

Another 28% state that their agency has implemented programs that address today’s racial and gender divide, while 23% say they’re in the midst of developing new policies. However, 22% say their shops have not yet invested in programs like bias training.

Each year, strategy’s Agency Survey attracts respondents from a range of ad shops: creative, media, PR, digital, design, experiential, among others. Traditional ad agencies tend to offer the largest number of survey participants, and while 2018 was no different (57% were creative), we did see more traction from the media side at 15% (up from 5% in 2017). The third biggest group was PR at 10%. The majority (81%) of this year’s survey takers come from agencies with under 200 staff.  

Illustrations by Gary Taxali