In this age where every company is in some way a media company, the role of the creative agency is being altered. When companies can use social media and their own digital channels to put out content, where does the agency fit in, not to mention social and digital platforms, content publishers, and media agencies? This ever-changing balancing act continues, and was the subject of the panel hosted by [email protected]’s Leo Ryan at Social Media Week in London on Thursday.
One of the recurring themes throughout the discussion was that each part of the ecosystem should do what they do best. Digby Lewis, Director of Brand Strategy EAME for Buzzfeed touched on the role of content publishers. What they do best is distribution; being able to recognize what platforms and distribution methods will ensure that content is delivered to the right target audience, at the right time. When an agency comes to Buzzfeed, Lewis said, they get the “Buzzfeed interpretation of an idea…it’s about finding that overlap between what the brand objectives are and what we know the Buzzfeed audience likes.”
Agencies, however, are able to understand audiences across broader spectrums, noted Jed Hallam, UK Head of Digital Strategy at Mindshare. It’s true that large agencies sometimes have amazing resources at their disposal. Hallam mentioned the ability to do effective real-time marketing, which can provide a clearer understanding of what’s working, what’s not, and why.
Fritha Hookway, TopShop’s Head of Social Media, offered many intriguing insights from the client side of things. Certain brands need to leverage agencies more than others. She referred to TopShop as an inherently creative brand, which means it can rely on agencies on project-by-project bases. When a brand knows itself well and trusts what works for it, some things can be handled in-house.
But, Hookway noted, agencies indeed can be valuable partners. “Business in general can run day-to-day very well,” she said. “It’s when you maybe want to shift the needle, or do something quite different then it’s good to look outside.” Social media, though, is a place that brands should try and handle on their own, Hookway said. “Interactions, having that as close to the grain as possible is something, I think, is very important.”
Agencies, especially larger ones, can be slow at times to adapt. Like any institution, agencies have ingrained processes and there are often bureaucracies in place that are hard to break down. Tim Styles, Creative Strategist at Facebook, said that agencies trusting in their approaches is fine and often times provide a needed, thoughtful perspective. But they can be slow to change because of their sheer size. “Very often the heads of agencies are very much about the future, but it’s like turning an oil tanker around sometime,” he said. “below that is a network of people who can’t operate that quickly, or change their thinking that quickly.”
Like companies in any other industry, agencies—whether they be networks or smaller, specialized in creative or media—will need to adjust to changing times. With content providers and platforms working directly with brands, and brands increasingly doing things on their own, agencies will need to fight to keep their place in the ecosystem. If it’s about doing what you do well, the time is now for agencies to find what they do well. And to do it better than ever.