As most holding companies rushed to add digital capabilities, this could hardly compare to the huge advantages that tech companies and large consulting firms have, especially when it comes to deep data prowess.

By Ameer Ismail

We live in a world where data powers everything. This has had a huge impact on the way agencies and holding companies operate and conduct their business. Take the case of Big Technology: While the top 7 brands added $ 3.4 trillion in value, over the same period our industry has had to contend with shrinking budgets, maintaining margins and trying to navigate a scenario where many brands were cutting back on their communications spending.

The earlier philosophy of holding companies having a multi-brand ecosystem in a single market earning a higher share of client budgets has been revisited due to local disruptions – changing consumer preferences and the emergence of smaller independent creative agencies . All of this put enormous competitive pressure on agency brands.

The rapid move to digital has also changed that. As most holding companies rushed to add digital capabilities, this could hardly compare to the huge advantages that tech companies and large consulting firms have, especially when it comes to deep data prowess. The Big Five consulting firms like Accenture, PWC, Deloitte and others have already invested and continue to invest heavily in developing their digital and marketing capabilities and some have entered the content creation space as well. Take the example of Accenture Interactive, which has been named the world’s largest digital agency network. It recently reported $ 10.6 billion in revenue, fueled by its acquisition of digital marketing agencies – Creative Drive and Yesler, both of which have proven track records in content development. Old businesses that took decades to develop and grow are now forced to do some soul searching and feel rightfully concerned.

The reason this gives legacy holding companies sleepless nights is the speed at which these changes are happening. Even as they grappled with increasing pressure on margins and profit calls, acquisition budgets were shrinking or even completely disappeared. At the same time, the big tech companies were raking in huge revenues and stealing a march on everyone, even during the pandemic! Combined revenues of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft jumped 41% in Q3’21 to $ 322 billion.

So what does the future of our industry look like? Will these forces of change and disruption completely kill the agency model? I would like to think not. Anyone who has spent time in the industry has seen the impact of these changes, however, so many of us are passionate about the world of brands and unwaveringly believe in our relevance and value. It is true that there has to be a complete re-imagining of the agency models of the future and an acceptance that these disruptions will continue, not abate. Let’s not forget that our talent has fueled so many industries, including big tech. We must defend our claim with confidence and remain firmly convinced that creativity and brand building requires the confluence of many elements, including data and information. Creativity has been the cornerstone of all great communications and it is something that will never become obsolete. What agencies need to do is add new era learning to that through in-depth data analysis, understanding the market, and collaborating as needed to acquire these capabilities.

Speaking of creativity, there are certain things that I think agency brands need to do and then certain programs that the industry needs to collectively promote. First, we need to use our creative abilities to come up with bigger ideas that can impact society, country and the world. While we do an exceptional job on the brand and the lens, I think our canvas needs to be a lot bigger. We need to do work that has real impact not only by coming up with a smart slogan or a great branding campaign, but we need to harness our inherent strength by coming up with broader concepts and ideas. We need to create a mindset where the most important criteria for measurement are tangible changes in society and not just opinions, likes or comments. One example is our #MainBhiIndiaPolice campaign which encouraged people to behave responsibly during the lockdown and succeeded in getting an important message across to millions of people and triggering behavior change. Another is the “Uncensored Playlist” and “Uncensored Library” for Reporters Without Borders – shining examples of campaigns that have had a tangible impact.

These are just a few examples of the enormous capacity that lies within this industry – it’s such a great competitive advantage, but there is much more we need to do! All it takes to thrive in this world is to think bigger, embrace change, understand the data, and rearrange our models.

The author is president of Lintas Live, MullenLowe Lintas Group. The opinions expressed are personal.

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