Why agencies need to focus on client value and not shareholder value

There has never been a more confusing time to be a marketeer. A never ending barrage of creds, underperforming agencies merging, new platforms launching weekly, and a sprawling measurement ecosystem intentionally designed to confuse marketeers into submission… Woohooo, I received one million likes on this viral seems to be a default success metric.

One network CEO once said to me, ‘I have never worked at an agency with more than 10 good people’. And it now seems the big brands are taking him for his word.

Just this month, P&G and Unilever have both leveraged their marketing weight to convince networks to allow them to build a bespoke brand agency, cherry picking talent from agencies across their respective networks.

This is clearly a sign that agencies are over-weight. Clients are searching for a leaner supply chain of skills that work together collaboratively and not only in singular pursuit of their own interests.

It’s no secret that the big networks are in disarray, especially with added scrutiny being put on un-transparent practices and media fraud. Bigger is no longer better, and agencies that prioritise shareholder value over client value will continue to merge, reduce and ultimately be as extinct as the prehistoric practices they still abide by.

As an agency owner, it may seem odd that I advocate investing in in-house talent, but I think that you need to tread carefully with agencies. You need to make sure that they have your interests at heart (not their own profits), are open to collaborating with specialist agencies where relevant (I see in-house departments as an example of that) and ensure that agencies always retain line of sight of the business KPIs that you set out to achieve. Not engagement metrics, business metrics. Shock horror, am I saying we should sell more stuff and increase your profits…. yes I am!

I believe the new agency model is ‘creative consultancy’.

It’s sometimes said that:

  • Consultants are expensive and lack execution abilities
  • Creatives are random, and lack business acumen

Nothing sums this up better than on stage at Cannes when Publicis’ Global Creative Director, Nick Law straight out called Accenture Interactive’s work shit on stage to Accenture’s MD, Anaoly Roytman. His response “Come visit me on my yacht to talk about it.” sums it up really.

At my agency SHARE, we sit at the intersection of creativity and consultancy to provide ‘Marketing Transformation’ support. We focus on clear business problems, and simplify the brief into a hypothesis that we try to prove or disprove through data research. For example “Can we make our ad spend more efficient through better data management?” or “Can we decrease cost of sales by selling direct to consumer?”

This gives us a solid foundation and insights to go on towards an implementation phase either internally, externally, or with ourselves. We try not to get in the way of existing relationships, as we don’t yet have a yacht to defuse any tensions.

In summary, I believe agencies should cast aside their pursuit of huge growth, and instead focus on helping client growth. It is an incredibly exciting time in this space right now, but we need to work collaboratively to pull all the diverse opportunities together in a simple manner that clients can digest.

With the economy and general market conditions going through a rough patch, independent new breed agencies have never had a better moment to shine through. Only the great will survive, and that will be good for both clients and agencies.

Ian Cassidy | CEO, SHARE Creative