Agencies: it's time to stop fearing the move in-house

Agencies need to be mature and open-minded enough to accept that clients want a new way of working and help them get there, says Droga5 London's chief executive.

"May you live in interesting times", as the old Chinese proverb/curse goes. Within the advertising industry times have arguably never been more interesting, not least because of the shock ousting of Martin Sorrell and recent arrest of Vincent Bolloré. 

While not yet prompting a full-on crisis of confidence, there’s little doubt that the old model is now in real danger. One major challenge to it has been the trend for clients moving creative in-house.

While this has had mixed results – for every confident and distinctive Burberry or Specsavers, there’s a clumsy and wrong-footed Pepsi initiative – this inward shift is here to stay.  Getting defensive and pretending it isn’t happening is foolish. Agencies can and should tackle this issue. To do that, we need to involve ourselves in the process and actually become the invaluable business consultants and partners to clients that we’re always saying we are.

We’re seeing clients constantly experimenting with and searching for the right structure and agency mix, be it a move in-house or introducing new models like P&G’s "People First" and "Fixed and Flow". Each client has its own needs and wants to create the best model to match those. But that shouldn’t be thought of as a nail in our coffin. Agencies should have the confidence that clients will continue to need our perspective.

There’s an opportunity here to help design and create how future marketing departments operate. We can beta-test every element together with marketers, including the strategy and creative approach, community management needs, production, ad buying, data feeds, analytics and channel distribution. After all, by virtue of the vast number of client relationships and talent bases we manage, this is where our expertise lies. We should be using this experience to come up with the solution with clients – not shying away from it.

It's time for us to define what agencies can bring, be it strategic consulting, creativity, execution, or a critical eye on the work – something that would have stopped the expensive and embarrassing Pepsi episode ever getting beyond initial concept. 

Agencies need to be mature and open-minded enough to accept that clients want a new way of working and help them get there. Our vested interests should be the same as our clients. How can marketers trust an agency’s viewpoint and involve us if we’re busy protecting our own territory or purely focused on selling them our services? That will only serve to drive them further away. 

Bill Scott is the chief executive of Droga5 London. 

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