Prioritizing Production to Compete in a Direct-to-Brand World

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It’s no secret that the relationship between agency and brand has changed dramatically in recent years. With big brands paying closer attention to how their budgets are allocated with ad agencies, a shift began with brands starting to move away from the “Agency of Record” model to hiring multiple agencies, or embracing a “project-based” model.  In some cases, brands have even begun cutting out the agency altogether, instead going directly to production specialists like boutique, digital-led creative and technology shops that are built for execution excellence.

Why? Unlike traditional agencies, newer, boutique digital agencies are often lead by talented creative – or technology – specialists who are used to providing faster, cheaper and more focused production services for clients. They are also more agile at a time when brands demand nimbleness from their creative partners. In fact, this push for agility is partially why my digital agency, The1stMovement, had to overhaul our own model to address these increasingly complex customer needs.

As evidenced by the recent bidding war for MediaMonks, brands are now realizing that production companies can be more than just “a pair of hands” for them. They can be great executioners and creative thinkers, too. If agencies are to survive, they must adapt. That’s why transforming into a production-focused agency is not only a long-term consideration – but one that might become crucial in the very near future.

The Keys to Switch

To help you along, here are some guidelines for agencies looking to adapt or make the switch to a model that can ultimately fulfill brand desires to work more closely with actual talent and specialists:

Don’t silo creativity

Understand that coming up with creative ideas isn’t just the job and responsibility of a single creative director or just the design/creative team. In the world of digital, the best ideas come from individual and cross-team brainstorming, and that includes the production team.

Make account management a team effort

Move away from the traditional single account manager/director-led model.  The role of account manager/director has to evolved as the needs of the client evolves and creating a personal, trusting relationship with the client no longer should fall on a single individual. Clients know and will appreciate that they are getting not only an individual, but a team of talents to help them.

Encourage cross-collaboration and ideation

The more the account, project management, design and development team work together, the better.  Involving the product team from the beginning of the project and create a culture of accountability and ownership from the individual designer and developer will make the entire production process more efficient and effective.

Rethink your agency focus

Think more like a product design/development agency than an advertising agency.  Adapt key learnings from product design/development shops on rapid ideations, iterative and incremental design and development to increase overall transparency, minimize risks and maximize collaboration between internal and external client teams.

The Agency Model of the Future?

It’s clear traditional advertising isn’t going away and still remains the bread and butter for big ad agencies. But brands are now experimenting with multiple different models and looking for those who can think, strategize and come up with creative, innovative ideas, and execute faster and more cost-effectively. That’s why several well-known agencies have implemented in-house production units, including Ogilvy and Grey.

And as the line between production shops and digital agencies becomes further blurred and the demands of clients change, ad agencies should at least consider their futures in a direct-to-brand world. How do you compete? For me, the agency model of the future will have to be built on a strong hybrid of strategic offerings, especially around product strategy, coupled with tactical execution – specifically around digital experience/solution design and development.

It’s certainly not an overnight process. But taking steps to develop a hybridized structure can not only help agencies retain competitive advantage over their, smaller, more nimble and economical counterparts, but re-establish and build connections with existing and potential clients. That’s a future worth looking into.

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