For the entire duration of my career, I’ve read the following words coming out of agencies as they discuss their business plan or the state of the industry: “We are aiming to be the agency of the future.” They seem like harmless words I supposed, and they are no doubt meant to soothe stakeholders and agency conglomerate shareholders by explaining that the agency in question has a plan. They are not like the other sad sack agencies, no sir, they have a plan of action. When I was younger, I guess I believed these agency leaders too. With a bit of experience, I began to realize that by proclaiming to be—or attempting to be the agency of the future—they actually reveal a complete lack of understanding of the business we’re in.
I get it. Agency leaders (but really the investors) are looking for stability. If an agency can somehow peer into the future and find a foothold, that can ease the troubled and worried minds of those in Adland. Someday, 5 or 10 or 15 years from now, we’ll be well positioned to handle the clients of that time and the demands of the marketplace. We will have made it. The tumultuous and difficult times of today will subside and we’ll be able to peacefully reap the huge financial rewards and creative awards of forward-thinking while our clients finally recognize how wonderful we are. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
The hard truth is this: There is no agency of the future. Those that say otherwise are ironically showing their slowness to adapt and unwillingness to recognize a marketing cycle that is far too short to be called a static future. They reveal their discomfort with the roller coaster that is advertising (not that anyone likes to use that word anymore) by stating their goal and desire to someday have control over it. They reveal they don’t really like the current business they are in. In my experience, only dinosaurs say that they are trying to be the agency of the future. They’re just trying to make themselves feel better because they know eventually the ride will stop. But some of us like the ride and enjoy being beholden not to a team of financiers, but to our clients.
The best agencies know that they might have to change completely what they do and how they do it, perhaps before the end of the day. They are constantly evolving, tearing down and building back up their services and approaches in a way that would scare anyone that is proclaiming ‘Agencies of the future’ status. This constant change is not kind to agencies owned by banks, investors, or pretty much anyone lacking confidence, fortitude, and a good set of galvanized testicular fortitude. It is not kind to account people, it is not kind to people who want a 9-5 job. It is not kind to those who value process or efficiency over product. And it is definitely not kind to people who are in the agency business to make a buck. (My advice to them? Invest in blockchain technology. Much better returns.)
Today, the shelf-life for process or strategy might be stretched to three months. New creative opportunities pop up on the daily. The needs of clients are changing by the minute and our job as agency is to help them NOW. Sure we must look ahead but the future is a hell of a lot closer than it used to be, and our clients depend on our thinking and problem-solving in the present, not some far off nirvana where the process will finally slow down and we can all relax. I have bad news for all the agency of the futures out there…this is never going to happen. By the time you make your business plan, the business will have changed twice.
The only agency there is and the only agency that matters, is the agency of the now.