Since Digital has initiated the revolution in Marketing the question for the ‘Agency of the Future’ has almost become an Internet Meme. Pretty much every agency around claims to have found the recipe. That’s in fact no very surprising. Over the time the already-complex agency-marketer relationship has been significantly altered by factors such as the recession and the rise of social media. With brands and agencies stumbling into the real time web and over interacting customers (OMFG!) the key question is obvious: Whose agency future is it anyway?

The challenge

In their late Forrester report about ‘The Future of Agency Relationships‘ Dave Frankland, Sean Corcoran, and Vidya Drego have tried to define a CMO’s challenges and their criteria catalogue when it comes to choosing an Agency of Record – a highly complex task. Agencies have always managed to adopt to changes. There were many paradigm shifts from the ad sales era of the early 19th century to our wired reality. Nevertheless agencies (or similar institutions) managed to offer services which were relevant enough. Today, once more, agencies are faced with new requirements in what they are supposed to deliver:

  • Surround concepts instead of outbound: 360-degrees replacing isolated tools
  • Experiences instead of campaigns: Focusing listening, analysing and keeping up an ongoing conversation
  • Individuals instead of audiences: True 1-to-1 conversation as the next step after mass communication

That may not exactly sound completely new. But it is quite interesting to ask which agency model might be able to accept these challenges.

Who is the new Agency of Record?

Forrester believes in a new Marketing environment which it calls ‘The era of Adaptive Marketing’.

A period in which marketers must become more adaptable as new channels and constructs for interacting with consumers flood the market that must be tied to the overall brand promise.

I have already blogged about this concept a couple of months ago. And while it sounds like just another Buzzword, I really sense substance behind the framework. Forrester claims that the challenges of this new marketing era will in fact result in the rise of a new agency type. The agency after the ad agency plus a new role for specialists.

Whatever you think now – the diagram offers an interesting framework from which to judge agency services. And, uh oh, the lead role of Interactive Agencies in tomorrow’s marketing might be endangered. Or, as Marketing Pilgrim puts it:

You actually have nothing to fear, unless of course you do actually hope to remain the “interactive agency of record” for your clients. Not that they will no longer require your services, it’s just that a new Forrester reports says that the role will become obsolete.

What now my love?

No matter whether you agree with this assumption, the debate over the future of agencies is indeed a crucial one for our industry. All of us working in agencies assume or hope we’re more or less on the winning side of the game. And everyone seems to adjust his/her future agency prophecies according to the ones who pay the bills. Nevertheless two properties seem to be accepted as key criteria for a bright future by authors such as Joseph Jaffe: Idea generation and integration.

The Agency of the Future will live up to its billing as true Cross-Channel Planner, by maintaining constant focus on consumers and what it takes to connect with them in this traffic jam of brand clutter.

Forrester basically agrees with this assumption but shifts the focus a little bit. According to the think tank three I’s will form tomorrow’s agency of record core properties:

  • Ideas – Engaging concepts that span touchpoints and engage users with experiences
  • Interaction – Transmedia interaction intertwining paid, owned and earned assets
  • Intelligence – To listen & learn from the customer, optimize accountability and treat clients as the individuals that they are

By now the ‘Agency of Record’ was a traditional one. All of the big players in the market try to integrate or generate ressources to keep up with the speed of our world. But while the traditional advertising agency is strong in idea generation, it definitely has a hard time with the two new principles of our wired world: Feedback and Real time. Both factors simply contradict everything a traditional ad shop stands for. Or does it? Even agencies like McCann seem to rethink things. Check out this interview with Faris Yakob, Chief Technology Strategist at McCann NYC

Things seem to change. And I also see the limits of what Digital Agencies are able to do. My agency produces great ideas which can be executed across different channels. We are very dynamic and indeed driven by what is possible. But there still is a way to go until we can really deliver services across non-digital channels.

No, it’s not about being Digital. But it helps.

Digital Agencies were quite enthusiastic lately. They were proud about their specialist knowledge and the dynamics of their market. They started believe that they are really more than digital shops just because our customers become more digital. But they forgot one thing: Our customers are not digital exclusively. They still do watch TV and read newspaper. No matter if the Print ad may be produced digitally – it’s not a digital agency’s native environment. According to Forrester this might become a problem for the big, specialized digital shops:

The interactive agency of record will die. in the Adaptive Marketing era, interactive marketing will become core rather than a secondary effort for marketing departments. The end result: The interactive agency of record will become obsolete. Leading interactive  agencies will have to make the big choice to enter the race to be the lead agency or fall back into a niche specialty.

What??? The interactive agency of record will die? Not quite. ‘The Digital Agency of Record’ will have to die because ‘The Agency of Record’ will be Digital in its core. It will have to know about TV, it will have to know about Print-executable messages – but all of it will have to be prolonged into what will be Digital. Which will be pretty much everything.

No doubt, big digital shops will have to learn. Our sub-industry is too much focused on its tech-enthusiasm. And it tends to forget about traditional ways to interact with the customer. But I think our future, as big digital agencies, is not quite as challenging as the future of big traditional shops. They will have to revise an awful lot of processes in order to speed up and listen. They will have to offer services in a very hostile environment (feedback in real time never was their favourite way to project things).

So my personal impression is, Forrester has published a great report with a very catchy headline. But it does not support the claim that big digital shops will be irrelevant. They simply have to offer ‘new traditional’ services, strengthen cooperations with non-agency partners and focus on ideas in order to define the future of the industry.

This evolution can take place on both sides – traditional or digital agency. Think BBH and watch closely how a big traditional shop accepts the challenge and reinvents itself. Watch what’s happening at W+K right now and get the idea. And yes, do also watch closely how Razorfish will affect Publicis‘ business. Simply because we are not just an acquisition of a network, we are now in its core. And we will change it.

So what is your impression? Is this debate relevant? Will we see a completely new type of agency evolve? Or will the big agencies of 2030 still be Ogilvy, Publicis or McCann? Is it time for digital shops to replace them? Or do we lack abilities that big traditional shops simply have to acquire? And please do not forget before you comment: We are talking about ‘The Agency of Record’…

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