We can build an agency model that will build more profitable and more famous brands

Chaos can be a catalyst for change and present us with the chance to rethink how we work. By Grey London's chief executive.

Procter & Gamble brand chief Marc Pritchard’s recent call to clean up the media supply chain, and the recent front page Times investigation into advertisers inadvertently funding terror groups have sent shivers through the industry.

The packaging up of "sub-prime" inventory with premium spots, traded by multiple parties without full transparency, should act as a warning that we could be living through our very own version of The Big Short.

But this doesn’t just apply to those working in media, it applies to all of us. Human beings are brilliant at both spotting changes in the world around us and simultaneously carrying on blithely as if nothing has changed.

So what else are we turning a blind eye to? Alongside worrying about sub-prime ad space, shouldn’t we be worrying about the sub-prime creativity being produced to go into it? Or, worse still, shouldn’t we be more honest with ourselves about our total disconnection from the media habits of the people we’re selling to? Close your Amazon Prime app and say hello to three-and-a-half hours of linear TV a day.

Shouldn’t we be more honest with ourselves about our total disconnection from the media habits of the people we’re selling to?

So this recent crisis is really a welcome opportunity to call out the bad habits, to question the comfortably familiar "velvet rut" we are stuck in.

Rather than letting our industry and our craft fall into disrepute, we can adapt and build a future agency model that will not only survive but build more relevant, more profitable and more famous brands. 

We can do this in three ways

First, we exist to make work that powers its way into the heart of popular culture. Not because we put enormous spend behind the work but because the idea itself has an irresistible, magnetic attraction. Because its time has come, because it is relevant to people’s lives, because it is entertaining and useful.

At Grey, we are incredibly excited about making culturally ambitious ideas that capture the popular imagination. But we are just as excited about how we can create an equally powerful experience on a very intimate scale. The public and the personal entirely intertwined. Culturally powerful programmatic, focused on effectiveness and not just efficiency, is the frontier we should be exploring.

Second, we need to think more like designers and less like makers of ads. Design, at least in its most powerful expression, obsesses about the problem and then puts the perfect solution in place. It definitely isn’t about seeing every business problem as an ad waiting to be made. If you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Fewer hammers, more toolboxes, please.

We need to think more like designers and less like makers of ads.

But to do that we have to afford the specialists, who work with us and around us, more respect. We must invite them in openly at the outset of a project, rather than remembering, three weeks too late, to invite Mobile Dave into the meeting in a desperate attempt to turn a TV script into a cultural platform.

At Grey, we think Avengers Assemble at the outset of every project – we don’t just fall back on muscle memory – and that’s why our work is so diverse.

Third, to do this right, we need to look at the total marketing experience and drive efficiency upstream. We can’t just focus on efficiency at the final moment of conversion, we should be thinking much harder about the way we structure the entire communications model. 

Prioritise customer experience

Tomorrow’s agencies are transforming their planning teams by really giving customer experience an equal voice. More than that, they are breeding people who can sit comfortably in both camps and can account for the marketing dollars upfront rather than making that someone else’s problem.

We need to design for the entire customer experience right at the outset – way before the brief – and then build lean, customised teams that can deliver against it.

But if you are not open to the contribution of others, if you don’t believe that none of us is as smart as all of us, if you put the script first, you are going to find it increasingly difficult to keep up. Powerful cultural ideas, delivered at scale and with intimacy. Designing around problems, not existing capabilities, and building a customer experience plan at the outset. These are key components of the new model agency. But even all that is not enough. Because the killer app of the new agency isn’t about structure, it’s about culture.

We must embrace instability. We must love change, feel the fear that comes with transformation and do it anyway. It sure can feel like we are living in an apocalyptic and post-truth world, where not just politics and the media but even the media buy is a swirl of confusion. But these conditions are also a wonderful catalyst for change and they present us with the opportunity to radically rethink what we make and how we work.

What an amazing time to be alive and to come to work with the imagination, the energy and the conviction to do something incredible.

Leo Rayman is the chief executive of Grey London.

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