July 27, 2008
This is a question that I often asked myself when looking for agencies as CEO for both Boost and Amp’d Mobile. Continually, I wondered just how long the traditional model would be able to remain, as most agencies we engaged simply didn’t get it.
Media and content companies, as well as other traditional forms of advertising delivery, continue to undergo radical and unpredictable changes. No surprise there, and everyone in the industry who has spare time seems to write about it. But as networks and content providers search for new business models and continue to try to work out who their friends are, agencies seem to do a lot of talking, but not a lot of acting.
Repeatedly, agencies preach the concept of change with their claims of understanding the complexities of new digital media. For us at both Boost and Amp'd as brands, they had no really compelling new ideas, or even a strategy as to how to execute behind one, for that matter. So it was constantly left to us. And as we were being awarded Marketers of the Year (both Boost and Amp’d) the surprise in my mind was that the creative ideas were coming from my in-house creative team led by our Chief Creative Officer Scott Anderson, and myself. Remember the "old people" spots at Boost, and the “I saw it on Amp’d Mobile” spots? All were conceptualized and created in this manner. Now don’t get me wrong, every agency had the requisite emerging digital technology guy with his feet up, reading the latest $3000 ad reports while booking his travel to the next conference that even passingly mentioned the words "digital" and "media" in its title. Often going to so many that he'd end up on a panel, talking about the very things that he was there to learn about. What are they all looking for? Hopefully for that secret sauce; the eleven secret herbs and spices that would allow them to see through all the clutter and build the quintessential “PowerPoint from Hell” they'd use to pitch agency heads, forever changing the agency and all its clients. Yet they stick to their old and increasingly less relevant formula of rolling out the old grey haired "Guru" who had createda multitude of memorable campaigns for companies back in the late 70's and 80's, whose companies, and brands, by the way, have long since changed.
So, what is the true value of the traditional agency and its role in relation to the brands of today? And why, when clients are screaming for new and innovative ideas, do companies remain with agencies that, quite simply, struggle?
Why you may ask?
I believe the answer is as simple as their need to maintain a certain “comfort level.” Better the Devil you know. But wait, this is supposed to be a world of risk takers in a digital frontier, isn't it? They will take the risk... as long as Research says the risk is less risky than what the predicted original risk was – thus virtually eliminating the risk altogether.
Let's face it, having a big name agency who’s handled your work for years provides clients with a feeling of security. It’s like the blanket your kids have and can't go to sleep without. Inevitably, they end up growing out of that dependence, and it's time the brands out there do the same. A vast number of these big name agencies are simply living on the success of past ideas. If you think about it, it's not an agency’s primary selling point. In fact, so many agencies pitched to us based solely on work from their past. When we'd ask if the team that did the work shown would be the the creative team working on our account, we'd often discover they'd well and truly left the agency. We would be left pondering "what exactly are you guys selling?!?"
Problem is, as the ad networks and content providers will tell you, small original production companies on the smaller cable and web sites are the ones creating the Big Ideas. The big network formulas are not as effective as they once were, and they're now looking to the smaller, more nimble emerging creative teams to produce their new original shows.
Brands that want to move beyond the standard pitch, generally nothing more than an agency history lesson, should look to companies like ours who push the limit beyond – and often well out of – your comfort zone.
Your customers more than likely left your comfort zone sometime ago, and it’s time for you to catch up.