Can the traditional advertising agency structure survive forever? There have been countless discussions on this topic, but I feel I must write it in my own words.
If I were to start my own ideal agency in a sustainable format, I would go for a network structure. (See an overview here)
My network structure would include ‘nodes’ of each traditional agency department. Each node is an outsourced group of staff that are not on my full-time payroll, but are contracted out per each job.
Obviously the advertising landscape has been changing daily in this “Digital Age.” It’s more important than ever for agencies to have a strong network of industry partners. However ‘full-service’ a firm is, it simply can’t master all the media channels available. An over-arching strategy, however, should be applicable throughout. Agencies don’t need to be good at everything, they just need to have alot of friends.
Why this is good for Advertising
With my proposed structure, one client services group creates the strategy with the client, and then brings a selection of “friends” to fill the necessary roles. The strategist can choose which designers, artworkers, planners, production managers, digital developers, and media buyers are right for the specific project. Whereas, the subcontracted people can turn down whatever jobs they don’t want, as they are open to freelancing elsewhere. It should reduce overhead, give each client access to medium specialists, and allow a quick shift to the newest technology.
Why it is Sustainable
Relationships are the key in this system. Client relationships can be sustained by the core strategy group for much longer because the two are long-term partners working together to contract the best creative work. It will be increasingly important to have good working relationships with the creatives as well.
Digital and mobile media have shown that technological advances can tear apart a traditional agency. For agencies to survive into the future, they have to have digital partners anyway. My model takes out the lead time and overhead. It also ensures agencies are not poorly duplicating expertise which already exists. But my model allows for a constant enrollment. Unique digital specialists will freelance as needed.
Tenders (RFP) will be less formal, which may be necessary with the future’s quicker pace.
Entry-level employees will have new areas of competency each year. They have a chance for their voices to be heard as junior creatives in the sub-contracted “designer” node. Or they can even be picked up as freelancers themselves.
Advertising is becoming more and more pervasive. Agencies will want to work more with poets, architechs, E-musicians, computer scientists, psychologists and other professionals if not already. The network structure makes this easily doable.
Where is the Loyalty?
The loyalty is in the relationship. Contracts are secondary.
Is this really a new thought?
No! Unfortunately, even though these are my own conclusions, I’m sure that I have been very influenced by the era I grew up in. My ideas realistically follow the movement to devolve power and flatten corporate heirarchy. In fact Daniel Pink’s 2001 book Free Agent Nation (see a review here) expresses a very similar idea.
We’ve been moving away from the Weber style of management for decades. Yet cold, impersonal beauracracy still lingers in many traditional advertising agencies. Ironic coming from an industry that is relatively young and trendy. I say, let’s catch up!