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How to future-proof our industry

How to future-proof our industry
Leo Rayman, Head of Planning at Grey London and Chair of the IPA's Strategy Group, sets the scene for an industry debate on 1st December.

When Rei Inamoto, AKQA’s Chief Creative Officer, was recently asked what the advertising industry would look like in five years time, he answered, “There will be less of it”.

There’s a definite sense of change in the air. One industry after another is undergoing significant technology-driven disruption. So it’s quite natural that questions are being asked by brands and holding companies alike about how their agencies,of all types, need to evolve.

But the bigger question is whether the future needs agencies at all?

Creative and media agencies no longer enjoy the reputation of being the coolest places to work anymore. We worry that all the bright young things have gone into start-ups, eschewing the world of interruption marketing.

I still see plenty of talented young people trying to get into the agency, but there’s still a gnawing sense that there are good young people going elsewhere.

Meanwhile the work that was the traditional preserve of agencies is also being done by other, newer kinds of organisation. Certainly brands are more regularly cutting out media and creative agency partners to go direct to the newer content publishing and media platforms. From Vice to Noisey, Buzzfeed to Google, Sony Music to Universal, brands increasingly feel the need to jump into the fast-moving stream of culture.

No longer does the iconic title of Creative Director belong solely to Adland. News UK, even Eurostar, have appointed Creative Directors. It used to just be fashion houses and agencies that could attract that kind of talent. Production companies are swimming upstream too – hitting-up CMOs with long-form programming ideas at broadcast rather than TV commercial costs.

Management consultants are swimming downstream into execution and design, particularly in digital, with Accenture’s purchase of Fjord and Deloitte’s launch of Deloitte Digital in Clerkenwell. In Clerkenwell!

It’s not even as if the role of agencies as ‘Insight Guardians’ or the ‘Voice of the Customer’ is any longer sacrosanct. The proliferation of ‘Big Data’ and the scarcity of layman-friendly data scientists makes it hard for agencies to compete for the top talent.

As technology makes it easier for us to work from anywhere, are we looking at a ‘Freelance future’?

Increasingly, will we be loose coalitions of professionals connecting around briefs and then disbanding without the restrictions or job security of the 20th century’s organisational structure?

So, is the agency dead? Probably not.

Organisations are still going to need to hire outside specialists to do things for them. But the people they’ll hire and they way they work could look rather different.

The truth is that it doesn’t really make economic sense for a manufacturer of widgets to keep a Hollywood-standard film director on the payroll. But they will sometimes want a Hollywood standard film.

Similarly as the world of marketing technology grows and specialises, client organisations are going to need the occasional help of specialists. Not every brand can justify a permanent Head of Oculus Rift.

“The difficulty,” as Keynes put it, “lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.”

It strikes me that some agencies have become obsessed by the means, not the ends. Rather than just making ads, if you can connect people to things that are useful and if you can make meaningful and inspiring interventions in culture, you might be ok.

If we define ourselves as people who want to apply creative thinking to commercial opportunities, not just people who make ads or apps or whatever, perhaps we stand a better chance of being fit for purpose?

The bottom line is that the future does need agencies, but not as they are today.

That’s why the IPA Strategy Group has organised an event at the ICA this coming Monday night (1st December) to address this issue, featuring speakers with an outside perspective on the industry including Twitter’s David Wilding, The Protein’s Will Rowe and Independents United’s Schilen Patel.

This provocative discussion will be followed by some Christmas-spirit-infused celebrations at the bar afterwards, so do join us to hear what they have to say, to share your thoughts on how to future-proof our industry and to enjoy a festive tipple or two.

Leo Rayman is Head of Planning at Grey London and Chair of the IPA’s Strategy Group.

Book up here to learn more about the ICA event on 1st December.

Last updated 27/11/2014

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