It’s almost a year since Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard stood up in public to tell his agencies "your complexity should not be our problem, so we want you to make that complexity invisible". Twelve months on and even a casual glance through Campaign’s School Reports reveals how complex and messy the agency landscape still is.
First you have to unpack the flowery definitions some companies use to describe (or obfuscate) what they actually do. TBWA is a "disruptive company". For an agency desperately in need of direction, a mere shadow of its once-great self, it seems an unfortunate definition.
Meanwhile, MullenLowe, clearly keen to leave no box unticked, is a "creative full-service integrated agency". (Incidentally, has the agency nominated chairman Tom Knox as its star player for being the only member of last year’s "key personnel" to still be working at the company?)
Even those agencies that have no need to resort to hyperbole are at it. Karmarama is a "progressive creative agency"; Sunshine is an "independent next-generation entertainment company". It’s positively joyful to find agencies, like Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, simply and confidently identifying themselves as "advertising agency".
Anyway, if working out who does what wasn’t a headache enough, there are myriad structural relationships between sibling agencies – with shared resources and talent – that conspire to create a confusing mash-up of agency brands. When the same people crop up as chief executive or creative chief of at least a couple of "agencies", you have to question how necessary some of these corporate distinctions really are in a world where marketers are seeking out simplicity.
But when Havas announced last week that it was dispensing with its media and creative divisions, it held off pursuing simplicity to its logical conclusion. Instead of declaring itself a full-service agency, Havas is now a group with specialist business units though still with their own chief executives. You have to wonder how long it will be before this "group", and many others here, is simply an "agency".
Of course, marketers are complicit in perpetuating this complexity, being too slow to dismantle their own silos and conducting specialist pitches based on crude agency labels. But cost and time pressures make simplicity and integration increasingly imperative. There’s no doubt that this will result in very different-looking School Reports in a few years’ time. And with the growth of in-house advertising units and the news this week that Accenture is helping marketers build their own in-house media operations, perhaps simplicity might end up meaning simply doing it yourself.