Agencies: Your future in the face of digital

Tim McLoughlin, Head of Social Media at Saatchi & Saatchi, doesn’t think his job will exist in five years’ time.

At a panel discussion hosted by Lansons as part of Social Media Week LDN, Tim joined Thane Ryland, Global Head of Social Media and Analytics at Microsoft, and Russ Graham, Head of Digital and Social media at Lansons, to discuss their views on the future of agencies in an increasingly digital media landscape.

The days where an agency touts one overworked ‘digital expert’ (or a handful if you can afford it) are numbered, agreed the experts. Agencies need to consciously implement what Ryland termed ‘qualitative organisation’, or a smarter infrastructure in regards to expertise. Everyone will need to be a digital expert. And everyone will need to be a brainstorming creative.

…and that’s why McLoughlin’s not worried. He’s got that bit covered. There will always be space for something strategic at the top. *Heads on the panel nod in agreement* But perhaps more encouragingly, we’re starting to see a trend in who’s being promoted fastest within the industry – it’s the analytical and tech-literate geeks instead of sales reps. This geeks are cool with that.

These predictions about the future of the agency space are in light of what’s becoming blatantly obvious – a new crop of tech savvy clients with increasingly complex and defined digital needs. But – as all of the panelists agreed – this shouldn’t induce cold sweats in your break-out rooms. Or your table tennis rooms. Or your in-house coffee bars. (I’m not envious one bit!) Agencies are actually in a unique position because of three key assets:

  • Their creativity

  • Their wider industry expertise

  • Their ability to invest in analytical tools and services

The only thing that will kill the agency model, Ryland explained, is a lack of futuristic insight and uninspiring ideas.

So. Creativity, industry expertise and new analytical concepts. You got this. But are you thinking about:

The rise in programmatic content creation: We’re at the tip of making this concept an everyday reality, and it’ll be important that you and your agency are equipped to discuss it. Check out some examples here and here.

New forms of engagement with consumers: Ever heard of Zoella? Chances are your little sister or niece has, and would buy anything Z waves in front of her webcam. If you attend our Breakfast Briefings, you’ll know we met up with StyleHaul and Fleur DeForce just this morning to explore how brands are collaborating with Stylehaul’s fashionista vloggers. These are your new celebs and companies like Asda have already caught on.

Experts are also starting to lift their gaze eastward, as there are some truly staggering consumer audiences in countries like China and Korea interacting in new ways on platforms that rival Facebook. Imagine a consumer base that is listening / creating / sharing and expressing itself almost exclusively online.

It’s a phenomenon we would do well to observe a bit more closely, if Zoella’s fandom is any indication. Lansons’ panel also posited whether apps and digital interfaces from Asian markets would ever be successful with Western consumers. My experience with Chinese digital and social media suggests otherwise – if you’ve ever seen a BBS board or QQ’s interface, you’ll know what I mean (those Western proclivities can’t click away fast enough!). We’ve actually been hearing whispers about these engagement platforms for a while, and I do think there are valuable lessons to be learned in regards to content creation, engagement  and the monetisation of digital experiences.

And finally – the elusive darling of the hour: Analytics. You’d give a week’s holiday to be able to convincingly attribute business results to the work you’re doing….but how? (Here’s a hint: it’s not AVEs.) The panel resoundingly agreed that analytics is already a crucial component of quality communications work, and they pointed to precisely the concept I was discussing with agencies a few weeks ago at our Measurement Breakfast: the integration of external data sources. Integrate survey data! Integrate social engagement data, sales figures, digital analytics, etc – that’s the measurement that’s winning awards today but will be essential tomorrow (or more likely, 2016). Check out some case studies and examples referenced in my previous post.

So, agencies, your calling is pretty clear as far as our experts were concerned. Tell your clients something they don’t know about their consumers, their industry or their methods. Grab an eyebrow. Grab two! You absolutely have the data, the industry expertise and the tools to do so. Or at least they’ll expect you to.

By Alison Williams, Associate Account Director, Gorkana

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