Three predictions for agencies in 2021

Future-proofing your agency boils down to digital transformation, DE&I and compensation.

What a year.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I reflected in Campaign that COVID-19 has and will continue to redefine our understanding of safety, our ability to connect and the way we do business. 

Forgoing the plans put in motion in January, teams rapidly pivoted to working remotely. While being online at all hours of the day can cause burnout, we’re measuring an increase in productivity, and finding that some form of remote work is the future of agency organizations. 

This crisis has been a catalyst to hyper-focus agencies on what they do best. The velocity of change has accelerated emerging trends. As the year comes to a close, I’m looking optimistically to a new year. 

But it's important to grasp key takeaways from 2020 that are here to stay in 2021 and beyond. When it comes to future-proofing your agency, many boil down to three areas: digital transformation, DE&I and compensation.

Prediction: Every agency will place more emphasis on AI, customer experience and digital transformation to accelerate workflow automation and augment talent.

Roughly 11% of creative and media agencies jobs are projected to disappear by 2023, according to Forrester. This isn’t due to machines “taking” jobs, but lessening tedious daily tasks – making agencies smaller, yet smarter. The jobs that do survive are bound to become more interesting, and encourage the next generation of creative talent to work more cohesively with technology. 

As this plays out, agency compensation models will shift from paying for heads to paying for platforms and performance. This will enhance agency operations, work processes and client and vendor engagement.

Prediction: More than half of U.S. agencies will transform their employee makeup, as a higher degree of accountability at an individual, agency and industry-wide level becomes expected in regards to DE&I efforts.

The industry remains compelled to reckon with its need for more diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging and enact significant change. We’ve learned that words only move so much; actions go the distance. The 4A’s convened 300 industry leaders to create an Equity & Inclusion Manifesto for agencies over the next two, five and ten years. Agencies are being outspoken about their focus to hire and promote more diverse team members. 

Real change can happen with continued self-assessment and company-wide commitment. Patience is so much more than a virtue; it is the foundation of change that withstands the difficulties that come with it. Let your personal intentions as a leader and team member show with your consistent actions.

Prediction: Agencies and marketers will require greater flexibility to manage costs, leading to an increase in project-based work. 

Almost 40% of marketers and agencies expect higher demand for project-based work over monthly retainers, and 25% of agencies predict retainers will become obsolete in a post-COVID world, according to a recent survey by 99designs and Corus.

This opens an opportunity for agencies to move away from the limitations of competitive conflict and increase category expertise. We can put an end to restrictive requirements that do not exist in other fields.  

Clients are under as much pressure as agencies financially. We’re likely to see that continue through the end of next year – but that doesn’t mean business will stay in survival mode. 

Agencies should prepare for the future by investing in new ideas. Cutting too far can hurt growth. Support employees and value their creativity, which is now more important than ever. 


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