‘A rigid structure leads to process, and process can lead to ordinary ideas.’ David Killick, Planning Director, Crayon.
Historically, silos, hierarchy and fixed departments have hindered flexibility but as consumer behaviours continue to converge, agencies need to reflect this. Although one structure is not necessarily the key to success, agencies should be open to adapting and working more collaboratively. As an industry, the general consensus is that change is inevitable; the big question is how can agencies drive change while maintaining revenue and reputation?
Agencies need to encourage employees to take an interest in the breadth of the business and the industry. This will help mould T-shaped individuals that have a holistic understanding and knowledge of marketing while still having specialist skills that can adapt to the evolving industry, client needs, consumer journey and revenue streams. As such, Ed Beard, Planning Director, LBi states that, ‘to create truly blended agencies we need to think of blended and blending individuals, not just putting departments together’.
Adopting a more fluid organisational structure will enable agencies to more effectively respond to real-time data, briefs, bidding, and the emergence of future technological trends. Agencies should strive to continuously create bespoke teams based on a set of specialised skills required to fulfil client needs and specific consumer journeys. This creates a more open organism. As in Darwin’s evolutionary theory: we (individuals, agencies, industry) need to be able to adapt well to our environment in order to survive.
One suggestion is to think of agencies as a football team: players and managers come and go; lineups change on a weekly basis, but the fans are always there. Agencies need to think of clients as fans. They need to maintain loyalty whilst change occurs. In the same way, employees need to be seen as players, and agencies as coaches, that need to change their strategy and tactics as the match evolves.
There has traditionally been an emphasis on incubating specialisms, but as agencies become more integrated and collaborative, a move back to full-service agencies could be the solution. As Lauren Nuttall, Account Manager, MBA states, ‘it seems as if agencies are increasingly moving toward an all-under-the-same-roof approach. However, I worry about the great smaller agencies being absorbed by bigger ones…it seems clear that the agency of the future will have a raft of capabilities’. This in itself has implications for smaller agencies as they may lose their identity, and clients lose competitive advantage and choice. No one knows the exact direction of the industry but based on consumer behaviour the industry needs to ensure they can adapt and take on an integrated approach. There is not one set structure that every agency should adhere to, especially as no-one knows what the future will bring. Agencies must be open to change and ensure they are adaptable when it comes.