The Tortoise Can’t Keep up with the Hare: A Response to Sir Martin Sorrell’s Call for a New Agency Model

Sir Martin Sorrell is spot on with his view that we need a new agency model. The “horizontal” approach he pioneered whereby agencies were encouraged to collaborate to offer clients a broader range of services, is being rendered obsolete.

Today’s brands are crying out for more flexibility and dexterity in order to keep their business dynamic and relevant to those that really matter: their customers. These are qualities that cannot be attributed to the horizontal model.

A strategy that is agiler, which focuses on data and content will improve creativity, reactivity and ultimately results that align with the business’ perception of success.

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An incubator for creativity

The current model dominated by the network giants is slow and rigid with a maze of bureaucratic processes. All clients really want is access to the best people, the best creative ideas, and the best tools. A culture-driven by the process and red tape only hinders innovation, creativity, and experimenting – and dissolves the already difficult path to truly magnetic work.

Clients are increasingly focused on the agency’s talent which they are more than happy to dangle in front of you to win your business. However, the team which knocked your socks off in the pitch – with Sally’s too perfectly matched experience and John’s creative genius – might suddenly evaporate when it’s time to kick off, leaving you with more junior staff (who have a higher turnover). Where are Sally and John now?

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Keep it simple, stupid

Sir Martin hammered home the need to “simplify” the client-agency relationship – he is right. The integration process of acquiring agencies is complex and slow. This impacts their ability to respond quickly to clients and new trends.

The future agency must be close to the client to be aligned with business’ objectives as far as logistics allow. A distance can be created when new agencies are continually having to re-learn the business. Independent agencies aren’t exempt from this rule, but it is not as common, and in some cases, they can effectively plant staff directly into a business and their talent can be targeted exactly where it is needed.

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The Eskimo doesn’t need to buy the ice

Unequivocally, the client-agency relationship is currently built upon a culture of mistrust and a desire for complete transparency. This won’t change, and it shouldn’t.

Clients have whipped the wool away and are scrutinizing how their agencies’ services directly impact their business. To survive, agencies must be much more performance-driven with specialist expertise that can be shared within a short timeframe to solve a problem quickly.

This also means the previous model of selecting one agency for all services has been called into question. Why put all your eggs in one basket with an all-encompassing agency which offers a bundle package, including services that you don’t – actually – need, when you can select specialist agencies that can be tailored perfectly for your business?

The future agency should not only work to KPIs that align precisely with the client’s goals but also have targets that are adaptable to change and evolve as fast as the business does.

The new breed of agency is one that is flexible, reactive and nimble.

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