Who are you? What do you do?

When you ask agency leaders what business they're in, some will say they're storytellers who persuade and seduce with words or pictures; others reply it's the creation of ideas that build brand value. At least that was the gist at Future Flash, a recent ICA forum in which the growing challenges to the agency business model were thrashed about.

When you ask agency leaders what business they’re in, some will say they’re storytellers who persuade and seduce with words or pictures; others reply it’s the creation of ideas that build brand value. At least that was the gist at Future Flash, a recent ICA forum in which the growing challenges to the agency business model were thrashed about.

The head of one agency, however, spoke of an opportunity to take the ad industry’s decades of perfecting the art of creativity – and apply it in new ways to help companies differentiate their brands and segue into collaborator mode.

Jean-François Bouchard, president of Montreal agency Sid Lee, spoke of the unprecedented opportunities the rapidly changing marketplace has opened up to agencies. His shop has created a furniture collection and employs everyone from architects to theatre directors. Another agency president at the table with a different philosophy was Chris Staples, co-founder of Vancouver agency Rethink. The shop lives up to its moniker by turning down business that, while lucrative, would not allow creativity and refuses to do free spec work, as it devalues what the industry does.

Coincidentally, these two agencies are among the five we chose to profile this issue in our Biz feature, which explores how a handful of Canadian shops are succeeding in the new marketplace, and shares what each does differently.

This issue’s feature on Taxi follows the same brief. They’re 15, they’re growing like a weed, and people like them (judging by the job applicant and awards volume). Like Rethink and Sid Lee, they’ve also managed to build strong brands for their clients, while making business decisions that position them to change with market needs. In fact, Taxi chairman/CCO Paul Lavoie says his agency’s media-neutral, collaborative philosophy contributes to Taxi’s New York success, as this Canadian-born model is where the industry is headed.

Sure, the old TV model still has a place, but connection insight is now what fuels ROI. And while the terms creativity and ideas are often bandied about to describe what agencies bring to the table, an important qualifier is relevance. The more relevant something is, the more likely it’ll get noticed, or acted on. And that entails deep consumer insight. It’s also at the core of the work profiled in this issue’s companion magazine, The New Advertising.

While the issue proves stellar work is being done in Canada – the calibre of which is changing minds and winning awards – the concern is that it’s not enough. And most agencies say the barrier to creating more work of that ilk is that few brands want to pay for the time spent plotting, orchestrating and executing non-mass-media-driven efforts. The more interactive, intimate and experiential the marketing becomes, the more time it takes. Yet change to the traditional remuneration model isn’t keeping pace.

In order for the advertising industry to prove the value of what they’re doing now, a few things have to happen. First, agencies need to collaborate more on the issue of valuing ideas over execution, and provide tangible metrics. More marketers should experience events like Cannes, to see global evidence that creativity can come to the rescue for their brands, and what they stand to gain from championing that culture shift. And, as the young media execs profiled in our Media series advocate, marketers need to take more risks. Given the pace of change in the online world, the brilliant opportunity NOW may be gone by next week.

And on the agency side, be like Sid Lee or StrawberryFrog and get out in front of the opportunity; the model will follow. Read how Mega Brands’ Vic Bertrand (page 18) is embracing this new culture and get Frog founder Scott Goodson’s take on what fuels this change (page 64).

To help you on that front, this issue profiles the innovators that are producing breakthrough work, and succeeding in the new market and mediascape. So in the spirit of Cannes, steal some ideas.

Cheers,mm Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy/MIC