Agencies Gone Agile: Why an Agile Approach Makes Sense for Ad Agencies

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The Agile methodology was originally conceived to address the challenges brought by high levels of uncertainty in the software development sector. Agile’s iterative framework brings hyper-adaptability to organizations, and this approach is today increasingly relevant across multiple industries as the market landscape becomes increasingly fast moving and uncertain. Ad agencies should take note.

Today’s creative firms are at a pivotal point of evolution. There’s a broad industry push toward a more collaborative client services model, and to deliver top value to increasingly demanding clients teams need to collaborate across locations. But for agencies entrenched in traditional methods, this necessary shift challenges existing methods of management. By implementing Agile principles, creative firms can surmount untenable processes and meet the adaptability needs of a highly competitive industry.

The client services paradigm shift

Ad agencies have long functioned according to the traditional retainer model. Under this approach, firms charge clients a monthly fee that encompasses a set number of service hours. At a surface level, the retainer model makes sense, setting a fixed price for delivery of services. The problem with this model is that it’s not functionally suited to handle the changing nature of agency work. While the retainer approach may be simple, it’s not adaptable – and that presents a challenge for firms hoping to provide competitive services to prospective clients.

In recent years, client needs – and, consequently, the nature of service delivery – have dramatically evolved. Whereas clients once signed creative agencies to deliver “big bang” campaigns, today they’re looking to these same firms to deliver a more collaborative and continuous relationship. If creative firms used to be seen as outsourced project developers, today they’re increasingly viewed as strategic partners. This shift is largely a function of evolving needs: Instead of requesting high impact ad campaigns, clients are recruiting creative firms to help them better foster ongoing relationships with their customers. As a creative agency, your ability to deliver attention-grabbing TV ads is becoming less important than your proven results building consistent customer engagement on social platforms, through apps and at industry events.

Moving to Agile: Benefits and strategic adoption

In the “big bang” model, a degree of distance between client and agency makes sense: Once you establish a big idea, the firm works autonomously to bring that idea to fruition. But as the industry moves away from traditional service and toward a more continuous and collaborative model, creative firms need workflows suited for this shift. Enter Agile.

As a methodology, Agile is built around the principle of continuous delivery and development. Every delivery is is a usable and valuable increment of work. In practice, it offers an ideal strategic framework for creative agencies to better serve their clients. By adopting Agile practices, ad agencies can reap the benefits that come with addressing evolving client service expectations.

One of these advantages is greater adaptability. More than anything, the evolution of client services in creative firms is driven by the need to accommodate project changes. In the new paradigm, project plans aren’t written in stone; instead, every creative effort must be primed for constant adaptation. Agile accommodates this need for hyper adaptability by promoting workflows built around autonomous, yet aligned, teams, flexible planning, and experimentation. In an Agile workspace, agencies aren’t tied down to an unbudging “big idea.” And that’s a good thing in an industry increasingly driven by uncertainty, where Monday’s great project concept can become irrelevant or redundant by Tuesday.

Another key benefit to Agile adoption is more transparent client communication. Rather than merely delegate projects to firms and wait for completion, today’s creative agency clients want a seat at the table through every phase of a project’s development. This demand for constant involvement renders traditional service models increasingly infeasible, since these methods are too rigid to accommodate the continuous reprioritizing that closer client involvement requires. By contrast, Agile is designed to yield greater flexibility through flow-based work that enables and encourages frequent pivots based on client input.

Barrows is one example of a creative firm that’s experienced significant benefits since adopting Agile practices, as Kurt Hold, the firm’s client service director, explained.

“With Agile management practices, we can get 20 percent more efficient with all our resources,” Hold said. “Step by step, deploying Agile tools has allowed us to become much more nimble, and that’s helped us solidify our industry position.”

Despite these benefits, agencies may be reluctant to adopt Agile because of the perceived difficulty involved. For many ad agencies, Agile adoption means a significant overhaul of long-standing practices and a leap into the unknown. The key to surmounting this hesitation and maximizing Agile’s potential is to approach adoption incrementally. Start by developing a strategy around greater team efficiency – one that prioritizes extreme transparency and a more visual and interactive workflow. From there, begin to devise tactics for better involving your customers in the creative process. The right Agile planning and collaboration tools can also help firms adjust to Agile processes.

Agile principles are already reshaping how ad agencies serve their clients. By gradually applying the methodology within your agency, you can remain competitive in an industry that demands constant reinvention.

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