Why I Worry for Agencies

joannaoconnelrevised“Marketer’s Note” is a weekly column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving, digital marketing technology ecosystem. It is written by Joanna O’Connell, Director of Research, AdExchanger Research.

Is it just me, or are there an awful lot of great folks leaving their agency jobs these days?

  • I followed the news closely when (my former boss) Curt Hecht left his role within the Vivaki Nerve Center, a division of the Publicis holding company, back in 2012 to join his former agency colleague David Kenny at the Weather Company.

I think it’s safe to call this a pattern.

I won’t claim to have personal knowledge of the specific circumstances of any of these folks individually. What I can say, in looking at this group as a whole, is that they were all senior agency leaders who, in one way or another, were vocal proponents for change in the way media was bought and managed. And I worry for agencies when I see these great, smart, change agents leaving year after year.


Because these are exactly the kinds of people that agencies need most if they hope to make it out the other side of the programmatic media buying revolution sweeping the industry. The data-driven, platform-based, real time approach to media management that’s taken hold over the last six years has been massively disruptive – it breaks the traditional media planning and buying models (not to mention hiring practices) that have served agencies well for decades. I know, and many agency executives know, that there are an awful lot of marketers asking hard questions of their agencies these days. I have increasingly regular conversations with marketers who tell me they are thinking about taking at least some components of digital media buying in-house*. Losing thought leaders like the ones I reference does agencies no favors when faced with tough client conversations on the subject of media management.

I recognize this is an extremely complex and nuanced issue which I am just scratching the surface of here. But the long and short is, something is happening that agency and holding company leaders must pay attention to. They risk ignoring it – or even minimizing its import – at their own peril.


*More on this in the coming months: my next research report will look at the question of why, when and how to take media buying in house. Spoiler alert: I don’t believe that every organization should!

Follow Joanna O’Connell (@joannaoconnell ) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter. 

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