Don’t miss your chance to hear Ben at Advertising Week New York from Oct. 1-4. He will be speaking on the Agency of the Future panel on Wednesday Oct. 3rd on the Realtor.com stage at 1:30. Join this panel of leading executives from holding companies, agency startups and newcomers in agency marketing services for a discussion centered on what is to come for agencies.
Taking the Ongoing “Agency of the Future” Conversation in a New Direction
While much has been said of some of the newer types of players – such as strategic consultancies with expanding capabilities and smaller creative shops with Madison Avenue pedigree – another “agency of the future” archetype is emerging in the form of the multi-billion dollar IT company that blends itself with an established independent creative agency. One notable recent example is Infosys’ acquisition of WONGDOODY earlier this year. Here’s a Q&A with the CEO of WONGDOODY, Ben Wiener.
Q: The ad world has been engaged in the “agency of the future” discussion for years now – how has the conversation shifted the way brands perceive and work with agencies?
Ben: If I’m a client, I want my agency focused on my business, not whining about their own. But a lot of the discussion about “agency of the future” has really been a lamentation about the demise of the agency model of the past. I think clients perceive agencies as trying to cling to their old model for as long as possible, not actively looking to innovate the way they do business to be more relevant, effective, agile, and efficient.
Q: Much of the “future agency” noise is around brand consultancies, small creative shops, in-house departments, and media agencies emerging as true competitors to traditional agencies. In simple terms, what are the value propositions for each?
Ben: Small creative shops, content studios, and production companies offer great creative ideals and a competitive price, but the strategic rigor and scale isn’t there. And they don’t really think in terms of idea platforms that can connect all of client’s channels.
The consultancies have great strategic talent and the ability to look at on organization holistically, but they struggle with execution.
In-house makes a lot of sense for a lot of functions, but as the level of talent increases, so do the costs. And they lack the true independence of an agency to offer unpopular but necessary thinking about the state of a brand and its marketing.
Media agencies throwing in the creative for free? That’s the industry going back to where it started in the 19th Century.
Q: Your company, WONGDOODY, was acquired by information technology corporation Infosys. This represents another model in the “agency of the future” equation. What’s this model’s competitive advantage?
Ben: This model allows us to keep our culture, our practices, and our focus on strategy and creativity, while also equipping us with integrated consulting, UX, UI, technology and data resources. It’s a single P&L with none of the barriers to true end-to-end integration that get in the way of doing the right thing for clients.
A corporation with the resources of Infosys takes a company like ours to whole new level when it comes to data and predictive analytics. It introduces a proprietary platform that’s as good as anything in the world, and far exceeds what’s available inside any holding company agency.
This way of working has massive scale and an offshore cost structure. Most agencies struggle to find and retain a handful of people that can help clients integrate an Adobe platform; Infosys, for example, has access to thousands.
It’s an agency model that’s completely transparent, with no imperative to pad margins by playing games with media. This allows an agency like WONGDOODY to help its clients take their media operations in-house and leverage programmatic and search offerings offshore. They save money, control their own data, and see exactly what they’re getting.
And last, in an agency model like the one we have through Infosys, there is more opportunity that we know what to do with. Clients don’t need to be turned into an annuity. We can come in, focus on having a major impact on major initiatives, and help them improve their own internal capabilities and practices to they need us less and less.
Q: Related to the above question, brands don’t really care about process and just want results that drive sales: is the “agency of the future” simply an emerging technology story at the end of the day?
I’m glad that conversations with clients have moved beyond inventing and explaining “proprietary” processes that really weren’t. I think most clients deservedly roll their eyes (on the inside, hopefully) when the trademarked agency process slide comes up. But the agency of the future is about more than connecting marketing to emerging technologies and the new behaviors that they drive.
It’s about helping clients look at their organizational structure, their cost structure, and their internal processes so that they can get closer to their customers and respond faster to market conditions.
The agency of the future recognizes that sometimes the product or the business model itself is the most powerful marketing platform and can lead clients accordingly.
Q: Underlying the “agency of the future” debate is another ongoing conversation in the ad world: the “demise of advertising” (or advertising’s “existential crisis” as it’s been more recently referred). To what extent do you see the new community of “agencies of the future” addressing the purported industry collapse?
Ben: For an industry that used to embrace the new and innovative, we’ve been very slow to change the fundamental structure and process of the agency model. If we aren’t reinventing ourselves, we lose the authority to help reinvent our clients. Because the overall “traditional” ad business has been shrinking, agencies have just been grabbing and clinging to every scrap of revenue and every service offering that they can. Clients can sense that, and it feeds the vicious cycle of diminishing the credibility of the agency, fueling even more insecurity, grabbing, and clinging.
The community of “agencies of the future” offers more differentiation in terms of the service offering, business model, and approach to delivery for clients to choose from.
For all the hand wringing and declarations of doom, agency life still beats having a real job any day of the week. And at our best, we still turn commerce in to popular culture in a way that is profoundly gratifying.
More about Ben
Ben began his career at WONGDOODY as an unpaid intern shortly after the agency’s founding. Over the last two decade he has overseen the growth of the agency, the launch of its Los Angeles office and the expansion of its digital marketing practice. His experience includes launching Fox Sports Net, leading the global expansion of Full Tilt Poker, and the introduction of numerous new products for clients including VIZIO, Alpine Electronics, Western Digital, Epson, Hitachi and Microsoft.Ben also experienced 60 minutes of fame —versus the standard 15 —by appearing twice on the game show “Jeopardy!” (once as a returning champion).