Marketers Explain - 'What Is An Agency?'

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whats-an-agencyCreative agencies, media agencies, PR agencies, "general" agencies. All have faced significant technology disruption in the form of shifting consumer behaviors, disintermediation by vendors, and relentless waves of "marketing tech" requiring evaluation and training.

To understand the changes afoot in marketing services business models, we asked a number of senior execs who should know to answer the question:

"What is an agency?"

Click below or scroll for their answers.

Steven Farella,
Chairman and CEO, TargetCast tcm and Maxxcom Global Media Group  

"Historically we could have defined agencies as companies that were responsible for 'message development' and 'message delivery' of a marketer’s campaign.

Agencies today must be so much more than that. An agency must be fluent in strategizing, crafting, planning, buying and optimizing advertising, as well as expert in technology, big data and social media. In a world in which consumers have gained more control over the types of content they consume and how they consume it, we must also be content creators, or more accurately, storytelling technologists who are expert at precision delivery.

It’s more important than ever for agencies to assume a global view of the marketing landscape and be well versed in the many elements that impact their clients' business.

No doubt recent years have brought a big change in the way we do business --- and that’s a good thing.  We can work more effectively with a breed of digital publishers that have also begun to shift their offerings. For example, while Google and Meredith have developed client-facing businesses that allow them to provide services that were once reserved for traditional ad agencies -- such as creative development and media budget management -- they still remain connected with ad agencies. Ad agencies that have evolved to become more than just advertising/media handlers do not view these publisher structural changes as threats, but rather as opportunities to supplement even better work.

As consumers’ media habits continue to change so too will the definition and role of an agency. A successful agency’s capabilities are shifting more towards that of a pure play technology company that can develop software to reach consumers in the right place at the right time with the right content. Yes, we’re much more than 'message development' and 'message delivery' companies."

Amir Kassaei, Chief Creative Officer of DDB Worldwide

"An Agency is an organization which is built around the belief that if you combine creative talent and humanity, you can help companies to make their products, services and brands relevant to the life of the people. The job is to find or create a relevant truth and communicate it in an intelligent and fresh way. An Agency is looking at technology as a tool and is not confusing it with an idea. An Agency is defining creativity as the art of solving a marketing and business problem. The technology is changing. The media landscape is evolving but the core purpose of an agency will always stay the same."

Robert Harwood-Matthews, President, TBWA\CHIAT\DAY New York

"To the cynics I’ve heard an agency described as a ‘frightful waste of human intelligence.’ To our clients I hope we might be a crack squad, agile, forward thinking and engaged in delivering growth or change or whatever counts for progress in their world.

An agency does this by deploying a wide range of tools and people, a far cry from the sausage-factory it was 10 years ago. Not all of these tools though are new and high tech but all are using creativity to solve an issue. An agency might be making software, content, binding books, creating theatre.

An agency hopefully employs and engages itself in a diverse community of creative people, from coders to copywriters. Giving back to it’s world, nurturing it, supporting the things that make it interesting like talent, an open web, education and so on.

An agency should be a place where there is space for marketing judo moves to be dreamt up, where business data gives birth to new strategies and new ideas, where business conventions are outmaneuvered and overthrown

Agencies don’t really comprise of much actual ‘stuff’ beyond bricks, mortar, a coffee machine and a few macs so they are what we make them.

To me an agency is a fun and exciting prospect, like ‘double art on a Friday.'"

Samantha DiGennaro, founder and CEO, DiGennaro Communications 

"An agency is and has always been a strategic partner that helps clients achieve their marketing/communications objectives through messaging. Whether those objectives are brand or product awareness, sales, employee morale or reputation and buzz, an agency leads its clients by determining/creating the most appropriate content and contact for engaging with its target audience[s]. In the past 10 years, the definition of an agency's role has become and continues to be fluid with technological and digital advances, as well as the proliferation of social media.

For an agency to stay relevant to its clients and, more important, to the end-consumer, it must evolve and embrace new technologies every step of the way. Nowadays an agency must help identify and convert leads to sales while being careful to serve the customer's needs at any given time, through geo-location marketing; listening tools; behavioral targeting; and, at times, predictive analytics. To be successful, agencies have to understand what these emerging technologies are and how best to interact with customers/consumers on various platforms.

That said, all the technological savvy in the world is for naught when an agency focuses too much on automation and algorithms at the expense of the human touch. More than ever before, consumers have an active voice, and an opportunity for bilateral communication, in a brand’s messaging and positioning. The agencies that listen, understand, engage in dialogue, and empathize with consumers – regardless of platform or technology – will prevail.

Regardless of whether an agency specializes in paid, owned, earned or borrowed media, it’s imperative to be one step ahead -- not only of the customer's desires but also of the technology that will come into everyday use -- every step of the way."  

Andrew Bailey, Chairman, Proximity
 North America

"An agency is all about collaboration - with its clients and with its people. It is important to create the right environment for your people to thrive, starting with building an exceptional leadership team, recruiting an unfair share of the world's best talent and giving that talent the tools and support to succeed. Any agency succeeds or fails by the caliber of its people and how they collaborate. So in that way, and especially within the digital space, an agency is defined as a group of excellent people collaborating around a difficult challenge and finding solutions that drive our clients' business."

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