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An open letter to big agencies: seize the future

An open letter to big agencies: seize the future

I agree with much of Sharon Zeev Poole’s article, An open letter to small agencies. Some things will never be the same again, and this crisis has changed all agencies, big and small.

However, I am also a strong believer that despite the economic fallout of COVID-19 there is, and will be, room for all kinds of agencies: big, small, specialist, those with broad capabilities and earned-led integrated agencies. Even before COVID-19 hit, the communications industry was undergoing rapid change. Our industry is getting more complicated, with more audiences, more channels, more stakeholders and more technologies to navigate to deliver truly effective campaigns.

Having worked at both smaller and several large companies across the world, I believe we can respond well to these changes for two reasons:

1. Big agencies can structure and motivate their people as specialists to deliver in this increasingly complicated industry.In my opinion, the model of the future is specialists with highly technical skills working with client consultants with deep sector knowledge coming together to deliver campaigns. This puts more focus on the importance of effective teams, open and timely internal communications and simpler, nimbler ways of working with less internal bureaucracy. But most importantly, it puts a real focus on putting our people first, with real investment in tailored people development.

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A larger agency can provide the structure for these multi-disciplinary teams, give more career development and opportunity, and provide more support and commitment to people through broad and individual skills and training. They can also provide the platforms, tools and flexibility around modern working, and a more ambitious rewards and recognition program, more thorough listening and feedback mechanisms, and the opportunity to work on larger clients that can support these specialist teams.

2. Big agencies can invest in the skills and capabilities to transform their offer to cope with the waves of change transforming the industry.I’ll take two examples of this – measurement and performance marketing.

As we begin to emerge from crisis to recovery, what is going to be critical is proving that communications can actually deliver real return in a tough economic environment. For too long the industry has rested its laurels on reach, number of clippings, social engagement and even the dreaded advertising equivalency value. Don’t get me wrong, (some of) these measures are all well and good up to a point. But in a recession, where many clients are going to have less to spend on marketing, they are going to go where they know that their investment will deliver a real return. We are competing not just with each other, but with any supplier that can deliver provable return for marketing dollar. The good news is that new technologies are allowing us as an industry to prove our worth. For example, we can now measure true editorial reach, not just a reach number based on circulation. New tools mean we can know exactly how many people read a specific article; we have just signed an exclusive new agreement with Memo that allows us to do just that. Secondly, the integration of earned, social content and sales enablement technology is allowing public relations campaigns to clearly demonstrate how much new revenue and business they are generating. This is the exception in most PR campaigns today, but it must be built into the campaigns of the future, otherwise our industry will wither. Martech has transformed advertising and ‘Commtech’ can, and should, transform our own industry. And we can win at this. Any agency can do performance marketing, but when combined with the PR discipline it becomes something more special and relevant. We are very well positioned to drive impact through our ability to tell stories that motivate end buyers. We really see this as the future, and a recent client campaign we launched a few weeks ago has directly led to 330 qualified leads, and three new clients. Big agencies can invest in the technologies and the deeply technical roles that are needed to deliver this added bow to our work. These specialists, when working in partnership with other team members that really understand the client’s business, can be very powerful. As traditional opportunities for earned media decline, the integration of earned with social, and now sales enablement, is where we must go.

Of course, it goes without saying that no agency, big or small, will succeed without outstanding leadership and a clear, relevant, simple and differentiated sense of who you are and what you stand for.

There is this perception large agencies are slow and cumbersome to change, but I actually think the breadth of capabilities and skills allows the bigger agencies to drive innovation for the industry.

Richard Brett is the CEO of opr.

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