Is Your Agency Ready for 2015? Four Trends to Jump On

4A's Chief Digital Officer Outlines What It Will Take To Compete

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Agencies have increasingly been positioning themselves as integrated entities with cutting-edge innovation labs and marketing technology. The problem is, that might not be true for many of them.

Chick Foxgrover, chief digital officer at 4A's
Chick Foxgrover, chief digital officer at 4A's

That will need to change in 2015, according to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, which is releasing its predictions for shops next year. The group also expects reorganizations of creative departments; shops adding more programming and systems-management people to staff; expanding opportunities for agencies now that wearables are going mainstream; and shops recognizing the importance of bringing deep knowledge of smart devices. Here's what Chick Foxgrover, chief digital officer at the 4A's, predicts:

The rise of DevOps in agencies
This is a movement in the IT world that is slowly seeping into the agency world. Traditionally, what software developers and systems architects did were separate activities. But that's evolved at many corporations, and even marketers are bringing programming and systems management together. That shift is allowing marketers to build what's known as a marketing stack -- technology that allows companies to integrate disparate data sources like inventory, sales and marketing effectiveness and seamlessly view its data sources.

Agencies, however, are still on a different level. "A lot of them are not strong tech players, but we're starting to see a stronger commitment to deeper tech-management skills within agencies," including creative technology and back-end capabilities, said Mr. Foxgrover. "This is an opportunity for agencies to engage with and provide a service to clients to help them design marketing technology."

In demand at agencies: hardware engineers
Not sure how the Internet of Things can affect an agency? You'd better learn. Broadly defined, the Internet of Things includes wearable devices, connected cars and smart-home devices. Playing in this field is going to be more important in the agency world, and leaders are going to want to hire people who can not only program software, but who are also well-versed in hardware engineering. Mr. Foxgrover noted that new and smaller-but-growing agencies are talking about bringing hardware engineers on staff for development, product design and 3D printing. He noted that it's a "micro trend," one that is just starting to emerge in the agency world.

"We don't know what to make of that yet, but it's interesting that agencies are starting to consider the melding of the digital and physical seriously," Mr. Foxgrover noted. "Agencies are starting to see that they need to have expertise in how hardware engineering works." He said that the job for hardware engineers at agencies will be "prototyping products so that a creative idea may now be given some physical form."

Wearables will change how agencies market
Wearables and smart devices will produce a lot of data, and agencies need to know how those devices work and to mine that data for insights. Most importantly, wearables will provide marketers and agencies with data that has more situational context than adland has previously seen. "There's going to be a lot more information around the context of situations people are in at any given time, versus just their age or sex...It's going allow marketers be more situationally aware so that they can produce things appropriate for situations, times and places and not just demographics," said Mr. Foxgrover.

As wearables like the Apple watch and fitness trackers become even more mainstream, consumers will become ever more aware of their data, and marketers need to take personal data seriously. Consumers may be getting more comfortable with this idea of big data, but agencies and marketers take note: "People want data to work for them in enhancing their lives," said Mr. Foxgrover.

Creative departments will be reconfigured
Many large agencies talk a big game about how they're integrated, but their fundamental structures can sometimes make that easier said than done. Mr. Foxgrover said that agencies are waking up to the fact that they need to reconfigure creative departments to better facilitate creative development and processes. "It's reached a tipping point. Everyone's talking about it, but a fair amount haven't done this," he said.

That may change this year. Smart shops are looking for ways to reorganize their creative departments to bring creatives together with strategists, media people and even technologists. Agencies are also looking to put together a dedicated and appropriately sized team for a brief instead of "handing the briefs to departments in a linear fashion," he said. In essence, agencies are toying with different creative-department organizations and processes to create more agile configurations for specific clients or projects.

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