Full Service Agencies for the 21st Century

‘Campaign’ carried an interesting opinion piece from its Editor, Claire Beale this week. She recounted a conversation with a creative director in which he complained at media agencies involving themselves in creative strategies and execution. Claire made the point that most of the time most media agencies’ creative efforts are “Eye-wateringly embarrassing. So far. But they are grasping the opportunity and clients are willing them on”.

Where will it all end? Clients want agencies to work together in a fully integrated manner focussed on delivering the best result for the client’s business. To most clients managing their different agencies and sorting out the turf wars between them is akin to herding cats, and squealing, scratching cats at that.

There is of course a perfectly sensible solution – have fewer agencies and use them for more tasks. In fact, and here’s a revolutionary thought, why not have one agency and have it do everything?

There are several reasons why the old full-service model (for that’s what this is) wouldn’t work today. The level of specialism required to manage the sheer complexity of a multi-channel, multi-faceted campaign alone makes it impractical. Plus the genie is well and truly out of the bottle and putting it back in looks impossible.

Plus of course, whatever they may say in public true integration is the last thing the big holding companies want. You can charge far more by organising yourself into multiple specialisms than you ever could if everything was in one place.

But the lines will continue to blur. Media agencies have long trespassed on research agencies’ toes (which must have led to some interesting conversations from time to time between Kantar and GroupM), but this sort of within-holding-company discussion would be a fireside chat compared to a pitch between a media agency and a creative shop for creative duties, when (as Claire maintains is happening) both are from the same holding company.

Media independents in the UK started because the top media people in full-service agencies at the time finally got so hacked off at being ignored by the account men running the show that they took their ball away. People like Chris Ingram, Ray Kelly, Paul Green and David Reich then proved themselves rather better at running a business than many of the colleagues they left behind.

And so it largely has continued. The media agencies have matured, invested in new services, grasped new technology and grown like Topsy. The creative agencies, well they largely seem stuck in the same old model.

I have no idea if as Claire reports there really is a pitch going on between siblings for creative duties on a large advertiser’s business; but I would like to think there is. I also have no idea if such a notion will speed the evolution of a full-service agency for the 21st Century, but I suspect it might well.

And when that happens I want to be in the room when as a two hour communications strategy and execution presentation in which the client has been totally engaged ends at 1230pm, the media agency CEO turns to his creative director and says: “You’re OK to go through your ideas in 10 minutes aren’t you old chap? Lunch won’t wait I’m afraid”.