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Market Voice 29 Mar 2021 - 3 min read

Agencies are thriving, but those with siloed solutions and narrow skillsets face digital Darwinism

By Marcus Betschel, Head of Digital & Performance - Ryvalmedia | Partner content
Ryval Media

The media and marketing industry loves to lament the death of the agency and the collapse of its model. But these stories of demise are greatly exaggerated. Instead, agencies with skilled, cross-functional, flexible teams have evolved to meet the challenges of a digital era. That means high calibre cross-disciplined people, those who challenge convention, have never been so highly prized. Silos and narrow skillsets, however, face an existential threat.

What you need to know:

  • Agencies are not dying.
  • Siloed solutions are not solutions at all.
  • Cross-functional, talented staff are key to smarter outcomes.
  • Deeper experience aligned with better tech means brands can challenge convention.

Barely a day passes without some disenfranchised industry person taking to the trade press to lament the various failures of agencies and warn of their impending death. These articles often reference ‘the agency billing model’, how it will be replaced by a particular consultancy approach, or, more often than not, the absence of a particular specialist or piece of technology that the author just happens to be selling.

I'm not about to diminish the challenges that lie ahead for all parties in these stories. There has never been a more rapidly changing digital landscape. But change always presents opportunity. So don’t listen to the doom mongers and their sandwich board prophecies. The sky is not falling in.
 

Digital Darwinism

But Darwinism is unquestionably at play. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed which agencies are digitally fit for the future and structured to evolve at an accelerated rate of change.

Large agency holding groups are scrambling to restructure and a new wave of independent agencies are vying to take advantage of the digital new world order.

However, some independent agencies are falling into the trap of over specialisation and creating silos of delivery and service. They should avoid making the same mistakes that holding groups are now desperately trying to unwind.
 

Silos: Dumb way to die

I was recently in conversation with someone at a relatively successful, smaller independent agency who mentioned they had implemented a new agency structure where teams have been siloed into 'specialisms', a team of Search specialists, a team of Social specialists, and so forth. I was dumbfounded. One of the critical issues facing client marketing teams is siloed channel strategy.  Rather than solving this issue with cross-functional teams, some agencies exacerbate the problem and reinforce this limited model. 
 

Integrated teams win

In recent months, I have heard first-hand from senior marketers about their challenges of navigating the digital landscape, as a facilitator at a series of digital marketing masterclasses. Senior marketers brought to the table the challenges they face around properly integrating digital best-practice into their teams and leveraging digital to maximise success.

It will come as a surprise to nobody that the fundamental challenges are still the same for marketers. How do we integrate teams and specialists? How do we sell concepts and ideas up the line when employees have different skillsets and experiences? How do we deal with marginalised budgets and increased revenue targets? Can digital solutions bridge this gap, or do they lead to unforeseen costs and inefficiencies of their own?

I believe the answer is that done well; digital integration can solve many marketers' problems, even the smaller budget, bigger revenue nightmare!

Agencies with a skilled, cross-functional team with a flexible structure to meet client needs are best placed to deliver a seamless agency/client partnership and flex and evolve through these next few years of digital-led business growth. Having digital at the heart of every strategy, consideration and execution is the key to genuinely being fit for this digital age. 
 

Goodbye narrow skillsets…

One of the most poorly kept secrets in the industry is that the best-laid plans, structures, and flexible approaches mean nothing without the right employees. The quality and experience of team members is what breathes life into an idea.

It is essential to employ people who are experienced across multiple channels, hungry to learn new skills, and unafraid of change. So, goodbye to the TV planner who never took the time to know anything about digital. Goodbye to the search specialist who has not diversified into social or programmatic. People with these enviable but one-track skill sets have a shelf life and will never be able to correctly advise clients of how to optimize budgets regardless of channel or platform. 

It is critical to hire great people, grow with our clients and deliver best-in-market digital services and capability. To progress that vision with an even larger team that has deep industry experience and knowledge means we are supercharged to continue this growth alongside our clients. 

And we are always keen to hear from smart, experienced and versatile people who want to join us.
 

Hello smarter martech

While people are paramount, we can't ignore that marketing technology and the knowledge required within an agency to deploy martech solutions effectively is equally critical.

Having this capability in our sister agency, Foxcatcher, has considerably strengthened our offering and grown our product confidence. David Gaskill, Foxcatcher MD, certainly caused industry commentary when he placed a stake in the ground, when claiming its purpose-built platform renders others obsolete.  Building on Foxcatcher's ability to predict and inform our buying recommendations has augmented our capability. The ability to leverage automation is now a critical difference in the offering to our clients.
 

Sharper questions, smarter answers

Every brief we take is analysed and planned by skilled, cross-functional industry experts and then overlayed with market-leading technology before a cycle of implementation, optimisation, and iteration. But we also question what today’s digital marketing giants are telling us.

In an age where automated solutions are the norm, with platforms like Facebook and Google pushing more and more dollars into automated 'best-practice’ inventory siloes, it has never been more important to have quality, experienced agency personnel capable of challenging recommendations and deploying martech to validate their assumptions. Otherwise, there is a danger that everybody gets the same results.

Agencies that are alive to these truths are not dying, but thriving, because they are smart enough to solve marketers’ myriad challenges, and because they are not stuck with silos, structures and technology made for a bygone age.
 

Natural selection? We hope so.
 

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