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5 agency trends I've noticed after 7 years away from the industry

In 2012 I left the ad industry. At the time I’d been managing director at Mindshare for 7 years and needed to refresh. It was a fantastic job - but ask anyone running an agency, it gets tiring. In my time out I worked as a business coach and worked client side for almost two years

Despite enjoying my sojourn client-side, I decided to throw myself back into agency life and joined SYZYGY UK as chief executive.

Returning to ad land has been like returning home after an extended trip and finding all the furniture is broadly the same, it’s just been rearranged a little.

Below I’ve pulled out a some of the main trends that have emerged in my absence.

Agencies have become more democratised

The main change I’ve noticed since returning to ad-land is in the people themselves. While being paid a competitive package is obviously important, in my experience people are more motivated by working on projects that stretch and challenge them, as well as leaving them more empowered to make decisions which in the past would have been made by their managers.

The hierarchy within agencies has gotten looser and people are trusted more than ever before to follow their instinct and make good decisions.

Data, data, data

Clients now have more data than they know what to do with. Usually, insights are confined to providing a deep understanding of consumers’ habits and lifestyle. This enables improved targeting but often limits the impact to media - thus missing a trick.

Since returning to ad land I’ve noticed the shift away from simple data analysis to one where behavioral scientists knit numerous data sources together and use disciplines – such as behavioral psychology – to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. This is having a transformational impact on businesses; from designing organisational systems, pricing models, creative messaging and even the brand’s core proposition.

This approach is embedded into client’s media and creative teams allowing fact-based, fast decisions to be made. I had expected creative teams to reject this interference, or disregard it as “painting by numbers”, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the way they embrace the insights gleaned in this way, viewing it as a starting point for their creativity, rather than something that constrains it.

Trust plus delivery is everything

For years pitches were won and lost depending on which agency offered the deepest discount. While ideas and strategy were valued by many clients, I still shudder at the memory of blind auctions and the dreaded procurement spreadsheet exercises. Agencies would submit volumes of painstakingly crafted agency submissions – which were clearly left unread – as the pitch decision was often made just a few hours later. Clients were simply making the decision based on the lure of the cheapest price.

Thankfully, it is now generally accepted that price alone is no longer enough of a differentiator - it’s more a useful and essential hygiene factor. Gone are the days when clients were dazzled by the idea of buying cheap media, they now want - and are prepared to pay - for smart thinking. Clients want agencies to help differentiate and build their brands and drive sales. As a client myself I gravitated towards the agencies who offered a considered, valuable opinion and earned my trust. Earning this trust enables core individuals to delve deep within a client’s organisation, unlocking projects which extend far broader than the original remit.

Clients want agility

The pace at which the advertising world works has definitely sped up in the last few years. The general shift away from a retainer-based remuneration model to a project-based approach has inevitably impacted not only on the way agencies work, but mindset too.

With revenues increasingly flowing into digital media channels, clients are dealing with more real-time sales information than ever before and are drawn to partners who can move quickly. Clients expect agencies to design teams and skills around their needs and not the other way around. They want to work with partners who are as hungry for success as they are - a real partnership.

People buy people

Thankfully this hasn’t changed in my time away. There has always been, and there will always be clients who choose an agency whom they trust implicitly; whose values they share and whose culture they embrace. Given the increasing complexity in the market, I’m confident this will become more important going forward.

Ita Murphy is UK chief executive of SYZYGY

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