If We're Not So Vital to Clients Any More, It's Our Own Fault

Agencies Spend Too Much Time Spinning Their Wheels Instead of Leading Into the New Media Future

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Ninety-nine percent are frustrated. I'm not talking about the Occupy Wall Street crowd. I'm talking about ad agencies. Are we not frustrated by the fact that we are no longer considered as important to our clients as we once were?

Consider this: Our frustration is of our own doing, because we are resisting making the transition to new media. And this resistance has created a lack of will to lead our customers through the jungle.

What's the jungle? It's everything -- the entire toolbox that can be used to sell our clients' products. Advertisers are bombarded by vendors with "tactics of the day" and don't know what to get excited about and what to discard. They have lots of questions that they expect us to answer. The constantly expanding and shifting of media options -- especially in a time of tight budgets -- has complicated the agency/client relationship. But clients deserve answers.

The media futurist and strategic advisor Gerd Leonhard, states that today's consumer view is this, "I program my media, it doesn't program me." His premise is that media must operate as a funnel instead of in its previous form of a speaker. The audience is no longer an audience; the listeners choose which advertisers may speak to them. Giving guidance on how to develop communications that succeed in the age of audience collaboration should be a priority for agencies.

The old model of marketing that relied upon the relatively simple sharing of information is no longer viable. Advising on the best course to take now is the role that small agencies must be fashioned to fill. Those prepared to be nimble and capable will be best positioned for success. They will be able to offer marketing guidance that navigates the full life cycle of a consumer. This has become the primary goal of my agency: detangling of the jungle. We call it the ACRE Matrix. It represents each stage in the relationship between marketer and customer: Attract, Convert, Retain and Engage. In line with what Leonhard observes, the Matrix's purpose is to engage a plan that relates a brand to a consumer on his or her terms.

Without more firms at least heading in this direction, is it any wonder that clients have less trust than ever in our industry's capability? On the whole, we are spinning our wheels, instead of making the transition and getting the job done.

Research by the Branding Forward Project, a collaboration between Fast Company and the branding firm Mechanica, proves that our industry does not have a firm grip on where it is headed. The project's survey shows that advertisers and the ad industry are evenly divided over whether we are in a time of revolutionary change.

Instead of debating about how the expansion of communication channels, multiple vendor practices by clients and the fragmentation of media are affecting us, as we often do, perhaps we should spend our time becoming more valuable. Instead of adding to the polarization of opinion about our industry's future, let's focus on what clients need from us most: leadership.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bart Cleveland is partner, creative director, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M.
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