Nadim Khoury: Is the agency of the future an agency?
Posted on 2021 Nov,08  | By Nadim Khoury

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Nadim Khoury, the former CEO of Grey Group MENA, ponders on the challenges and the structure of the agency model of the future.

At first, I thought the onset of the pandemic would slow down the speed of our industry. But, as a matter of fact, it only managed to reset the clock to a fresh start. And by that, what I mean, is that speed has never been so important.

My experience in the last few months has followed the success of some organizations in not only accomplishing difficult tasks but moreover, achieving positive results in record time.

Key decisions have come at a much faster pace, with fewer meetings and fewer decision-makers. Not to mention the hybrid work model that has proven to unlock significant value, including more satisfied employees, lower real estate costs and access to a broader range of talents.

If anything, the pandemic has been the fastest tech drive of mankind. And this implies reinventing the “Agency Model” with permanent structural change. Consumers’ shift to digital has been radical and quick, and with agencies being a blueprint for society, the question remains: will agencies manage to adapt to the new world, or will this require a new type of agency?

Today, the challenges facing brands across the world are being summarized in briefs that demand new talent with a diverse list of specialities… and only few agencies can provide that, at least on a consistent basis.

If they adopt to outsource then a big chuck of their margin is gone and if they decide to hire new talents - that might not be needed on a regular basis - then this would make them miss their aggressive targets.

Let’s go back to the core of what an agency does. 

As it always has, an agency can take a powerful idea or message virtually across borders and blur the lines between local and global relevance. Today’s tools, technologies and connectivity can further amplify ideas at virtually no cost – turning the very philosophy of glocalization on its head.

Data, technology and content have completely transformed this all-or-nothing take on glocalization; with the advent of social media, big data and real-time marketing, consumers’ constant connectivity and reduced attention span are at the service of brands.

But advertising agencies are not on their own. They are flanked by communications agencies, media agencies, digital agencies, and social media influencers to name a few.  What does that mean?  Our competitive universe has grown so exponentially that our advertising-dominated awards and pitches could soon see other disciplines around the table. Adding to that, with fewer new brands entering the market, the “pie” itself is not getting any bigger and conditions for “survival of the fittest” are still set.

This is where the data game comes in. Not a novel concept with its invaluable presence since the Mad Men era of the 60s. Data has always been an important part of the communication business.

However, what has changed significantly is the volume of data and the diverse ways in which it can be measured. Today, emphasis is placed more on engagement as opposed to impressions. It’s not about how many people viewed your content, but more about who engaged with the brand itself through downloads, clicks, follows, likes, reposts and hashtags.

There is a need for better and more real-time analytics and this is shifting the way agencies operate. It is no longer enough for firms to just be crafting a compelling message. They need to know, understand and interpret the numbers too. Data analysis has become an integral part of reaching the right audience, at the right time, at the right location to increase the impact of creative efforts.

So, what does this mean for the agency of tomorrow? 

The simple approach of integration is not enough, it requires a structure that goes much further than traditional integrated teams. It speaks to special skills and all-around communicators who can, at a minimum, grasp the context of the full campaign from the vantage of their particular discipline. Ideally, these people will be able to participate in the conversation as easily as they speak to the challenges of blogger relations and stakeholder engagement.

While we are on the path to creating this future for ourselves and our clients, considerations continue to surface. Do we still need offices? Do we need to change the structure of the teams? Do we need to reconsider the briefing process? Should we still rely on the same insights? Should training programs become multi-disciplinary? Do these people really exist?

It remains to say that whether we are preparing for the fight or regrouping for partnership, there is no way back from this new junction we face. For big brands set on winning the hearts and minds of their customers, the same-old agency structure just isn’t going to cut it.