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The Association of National Advertisers reported last October that 90% of in-house agencies are experiencing increased workload and that 68% cite managing workflow as their biggest challenge.

The Future of the Agency Model

By: Lauren Espiritu
April 2, 2019

Ever feel like we’re living in chaos? Wading around in this information-rich world with our eyes simultaneously wide open and blindfolded? Nielsen reports that American adults now spend over 11 hours each day interacting with various media. As creative professionals, clearly the most immersed demographic, we’re eager to conquer every emerging platform, channel, and device - though this often comes at the risk of exceeding our bandwidth, as well as diminished quality of message.

Adweek has declared that the traditional agency model is no longer sustainable due to antiquated operating models coupled with a perceived inability to produce authentic content, both the cause and effect of an inherent disconnect that many agencies currently have with their client brands. Content is in higher demand than ever, resulting in decreased creative capacity as resources wear thin. Managing complex multi-channel workflows means that teams are inherently limited to strike a healthy balance between getting the work done and producing top-quality assets that cut through the digital noise and deliver on converting customers.

Workflow management and efficient scalability are the top two challenges these agencies currently face. Regardless of where you fall on the brand-agency spectrum, producing quality content at high volumes is hard to do when your team is busy chasing down files, edits, and approvals.

In a recent sample of client analyses, Percent Gray estimates that creative teams spend a minimum of 32% of their time reacting to the administrative tasks associated with their workload.

Flatter Hierarchies, Stronger Partnerships

The days of working in silos are those of a bygone era. We have seen a rise in matrixed working environments, where individual projects have stakeholders from several areas of expertise within an organization. The benefit of working with matrixed teams is that they are cross-functional by nature, a full range of skills can be applied to projects, and business objectives from different groups are considered holistically in a project’s outcome. In a matrixed work environment, it’s not unusual to see technology and finance teams collaborate on high-profile creative projects. Having these skills present in creative planning has become imperative to leading successful initiatives, as they minimize the impact of high-risk decisions.

Teams can move at an accelerated pace when working in flatter hierarchies. Strategic partnerships reinforce this behavior by introducing expertise that may not exist in-house. Instead of traditional consulting arrangements and outsourcing models, we see brands opting for a hybrid approach to working with external resources. The more dynamic the method, the greater the ability for a brand or agency to “flex and pull” partner resources and take on opportunities they may not have been equipped for otherwise.

Adaptable Connectivity

Technology plays a pivotal role in the distribution of content, operational infrastructure, and the way individuals and teams connect with one another on a personal level. The rate at which technology changes, however, is a double-edged sword. With more accessible technologies, the complexities involved in using new systems increases, not to mention the fact that it's difficult to navigate all of the potential options. And a single faulty technology decision can carry heavy burdens in nearly every aspect of a business. Data security issues, operational inefficiencies, and high-cost solutions are just a few of the risks.

“Right-sized” technology must take obsolescence into account. As recently as 5 years ago, technology was selected and implemented with permanency as its intent. Today there are literally thousands, if not millions, of applications and connectors available at a relatively low cost. While the choices can be overwhelming, the benefit is that teams can reconfigure their toolsets as quickly as the needs of the organization change.

Aligning technology decisions with the demands of creative production requires a flexible approach that is continuously improved upon, and business leaders that embrace the fact that their tech stack needs to adapt continually are among the most agile. Digital adaptability is an essential characteristic of businesses who possess a distinct advantage over their competitors. The greater your ability to strategically pick and choose how technology works for your business, the greater the ability to mitigate any risk associated with misguided decisions.

Solution Mindset

The new agency model calls for teams to be adept at identifying problems and generating solutions. Design Thinking has taken off in popularity because cyclical problem solving is not only prevalent for content-heavy businesses but also highly relatable for the creatives responsible for content production.

Creative teams who are overwhelmed by their workload can benefit from having an external partner on board who can offer objectivity when making decisions and provide structure for implementing change. It’s absolutely critical for businesses to adopt this solution mindset going forward to ensure they continue to evolve. Where we see so many traditional creative teams operating in a reactive state, any business leader’s objective should be to get their team to a place where they are able to make proactive decisions.

360 Communication

When you have cross-functional goals and continuous technology and process changes, well-defined and reliable methods of communicating with (and educating) teams is an absolute must. There are not only several tools out there to improve communication, but we also see agencies and marketing teams adopting project management methodologies to work in tandem with these solutions.

The fact is that the agency model is in flux and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future because businesses are continually presented with new ways of working. Agencies and brands that keep themselves in check with their mission and core competencies are more capable of cutting through the noise in their day-to-day operations, and ideally, that is also reflected in the quality of their work. The crux of creative capacity is knowing when your team’s time and attention, which is your most precious capital, needs to be redirected for the betterment of the business.

Modern agencies will not be just the specialist groups that have been core to the traditional agency and consulting models. Instead, they are matrixed organizations who can fill critical gaps for their clients, help chart a path through uncertainty and instill a forward-thinking mentality that highlights just how interconnected our world has become.

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