Frank Palmer: ‘A’gency survival guide

I grade advertising agencies like meat: prime, choice, select, all the way down to canner. The future for our industry is not hard to predict using this model. Hungry marketers are demanding prime beef, and few agencies are marbled with enough talent and entrepreneurship to make the cut.

By Frank Palmer, CEO and chairman, DDB Canada

I grade advertising agencies like meat: prime, choice, select, all the way down to canner. The future for our industry is not hard to predict using this model. Hungry marketers are demanding prime beef, and few agencies are marbled with enough talent and entrepreneurship to make the cut.

Most agencies are hamburger, and aspire to be nothing more. Hamburger agencies have failed to change much and are commodities that look and taste pretty much the same. Thin in talent and leadership, they will be canned out of business. Their head executives are creatively conservative and lack the courage to step out of their comfort zones into new media.

Today’s prime cuts, the agencies poised to take the industry forward, are rich in talent, entrepreneurial spirit, and are responsive to change. Progressive, sophisticated clients seek their services, and these top agencies continually find ways to bravely and effectively meet client needs. However, to make tomorrow’s top cut, they must aspire to five operating mantras.

1. Live in continuous revolution. It’s impossible to get the agency model exactly right because our industry is perpetually changing. The best agencies of the future might not be in the shape or form we imagine today.

2. Talent is the key to survival. While bench strength counts, don’t think because an agency is big it has more talent. The future is a group of creative people that takes full advantage of the tools available in the marketplace and uses them against a client’s true business needs.

3. Look and act differently. Hamburger agencies aren’t currently doing a great job in communicating their position. The filet mignon company of the future has a dashboard of services and knows how to combine them strategically.

4. Engage in new technology. The future lies in understanding the digital space. Learn, act and respond quickly to emerging mobile and online technology.

5. Find the ‘big idea.’ It’s still the most critical ingredient to an agency’s success. Agencies that are able to deliver on an idea’s promise – across disciplines and media channels – will lead us into the future. Big ideas change things and endure. So do big thinkers.

Tomorrow’s prime beef will be the bold entrepreneurial agencies that stay fresh and dream big: companies seasoned with talent, agility, and the capacity to rapidly change. Their creative visionaries will be paid by results, not hours. But there will always be more hamburger than sirloin available in the industry – there’s only so much of a good cow to go around.

Frank’s Step Change pick: portals

Google and Yahoo are creating a path for all future communications. They also respect their employees and maintain great workplaces. In doing so, they attract prime talent, develop leadership and stay on the cutting edge.

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