The Agency A-List represents the best of the major agency players, those shops whose work made a significant difference to the companies they serve; whose new-business pipeline and organic growth made for above-average revenue and margin growth; and, importantly, that found ways to not only maintain, but increase their relevance in a fast-changing media and marketing landscape.
We do not pretend, nor would their principals contend, that any of the A-List agencies are the finished article offering everything today's marketers might reasonably be looking for, but they do point to a couple of the ways agencies must evolve in the coming years.
Influence product and service
There are still plenty of exceptions to the adage that "nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising," but it's closer to the truth today than it was when it was first trotted out. This is a flat-earth, information age in which consumers can find almost any detail about any product or service, get views on it from fellow consumers whose opinions they value well-above those of corporations, and buy it from anyone, anywhere. That makes product and price paramount, and makes it more difficult than ever before to grow sales of a flawed product or service -- no matter how good or omnipresent its advertising is.
The best and fastest way to boost sales or brand equity is to improve the product. That makes it more critical than ever for agencies to get involved in influencing products. Most U.S.-based companies focus on producing and distributing their products as cost-efficiently as possible, but few excel at nurturing the right-brain thinking that spurs innovation. Agencies are in business to nurture that creativity, and smart marketers are already turning to their agency partners for the ideas that can help improve their products and businesses -- notably Burger King and WD40 with Crispin; Pedigree and PepsiCo with TBWA; and Nike with R/GA.
Agencies' ability to offer marketers consumer data and insights, interpretations of what they should mean for the companies' offerings, and a healthy dose of creative thinking about the company and its products will be crucial to the success of agencies and their clients in the future. The best shops won't just sell ads, they'll sell creative thinking.
Marry behavioral data, media planning
and good creative
There's still a gulf between the masters of the database, the media planners and the creatives who pluck our heart strings.
Companies like A-Lister Rapp Collins now have powerful data that harness consumers' activities -- previous purchases, web visits, searches -- to predict with unnerving accuracy which consumers will buy what, and in what timeframe. More and more marketers are realizing the need not only to gather the data, but to share the ongoing streams of data with agencies. Yet the data are rarely married to fresh creative.
Meanwhile agencies such as Rapp's Omnicom sibling Goodby, with its ability to not only surf the waves of popular culture, but actually create popular culture, continue to demonstrate an ability to influence our behavior. However, they are too often targeting (or rather, not targeting) their efforts at a lot of people based on a media plan founded on generic demographic or psychographic information rather than on targeting those consumers who the database experts know are likely to make purchases.
For marketing generally, and agencies specifically, the future will be in closing the gap between the data and the engaging creative content. Just because the jury is still out on whether DraftFCB can be a great agency, that doesn't mean that the theory behind it is wrong.