RIP Creative Agencies 1786-2025
Why Creative agencies who don’t change won’t make it.
William Taylor is credited with opening the first agency in 1786; How would he have coped with the rapidly evolving markets of disruptive innovation? How do creative agencies maintain their relevancy? I was fortunate to explore this question with the executive leadership of South Africa’s creative market, they shared how they are challenging the status quo and reinventing themselves.
Firstly, own the decision to design your future, to stand out from the mass-produced commodity market of catch-all creative agencies that quite frankly can be replaced by a creative app downloaded on the iTunes store packed with templates. Like owning a Patek Philippe you have to begin your own tradition and make an impact for the generations to come. Lynn Madeley says that you must own your vision of quality service, that’s the first step to being differentiated as a trusted advisor in a crowded marketplace.
“Act like you own it” Lynn Madeley, CEO Havas Southern Africa
The collapse of the traditional advertising to the consumer marketplace in global markets with the increasing dominance of social networks/communities and the online social proof has led agencies to take a fork in the road. Turn left and chase the diminishing returns of commoditized shared service, mass-produced content that competes with increasingly low budget Do It Yourself apps or turn right and increase the service level and focus on quality over volume with differentiated engagement and quality outcomes and engage in Human-Centric experiences.
Matthys Esterhuysen says that the industry needs to become a desired point of contact, a trusted business advisor where imagination and creativity are the primary design principles and the cost is considered in balance with opportunity. Monetary returns should not be in any way the main driver of the campaign as it dims our creativity.
“Making the industry desirable again” Matthys Esterhuysen, Executive Digital Strategy Director Hellocomputer
This step away from over-complex design is a sentiment echoed by Robert Grace Founding Partner at M&C Saatchi Abel.
“Step away from complexity, keep it simple” Robert Grace, Founding Partner of M&C Saatchi Abel
Whilst there is an acknowledgment that the complexity of choice for a go-to-market channel requires consideration, it still holds true that principles of design in creative work, where stimulus creates engagement moving your customer from unaware to engaged, if imagined by visionaries who care about quality work will achieve beyond expected results. And it is this philosophy that when adopted by agencies makes them great creative agencies. Pepe Marais says a business focus should be on their purpose to make an impact in the world and the monetary returns will follow in multiples. Be like an athlete and run with purpose.
“Any business should focus on its purpose” Pepe Marais, Founder of Joe Public and Author
"Add value to the lives of our members to create marketing platforms and opportunities for our valued partners. We put our members first and believe that our success will follow” Michael Levinsohn, Managing Director Legacy Lifestyle
Compromising creative service delivery to be a catch-all multi-disciplinary product company leads to a fiscal race to the bottom of the production market. Without differentiated human-centric design, in other words, human to human service that delivers extraordinary work, your agency is going to be replaced by an App like Canva. You have to find an alternative energy source.
“Learn how to feel. Trust yourself” Robert Grace, Founding Partner of M&C Saatchi Abel
Whilst the technology plays a key in enabling that message it is your talent where the imagination the stimulus originates; Aubrey Malden says hire the people who are the best don’t compromise on this and you are more likely to succeed. Finding the right talent to create that quality human to human service is a consensus belief that Aubrey Malden captured well in their insight.
“Hire people who are the best... The best are those with curiosity, intuition, a love and understanding of people and those that question what those others take as gospel” Aubrey Malden, Marketing Strategist, Motivator and Author
Indeed, the vision of engagement is increasingly about leveraging technology in order to be able to pull more business, like neural networks, that learn customer behavior analyzing vast data; How a Facebook or a Netflix can measure beyond the click-through rates of yesterday; they are building game theory models that go beyond last click analysis, they are analyzing video scroll through rates missing product placements, or thumb-stopping moments on infographic thought leadership content as consumers of content change the experience the visionary agency anticipates that new expression of choice and they build alternative endings, different landing pages, different storytelling they build an interactive digital experience. But unlike most commoditized creative agencies, the survivors still understand the need for that quality moment that human-centric design brings to the table.
“Embrace change, welcome integration and create the future of creativity.” Andrew Moritz, Integrated Creative Director Wunderman South Africa
I will leave you with this last thought; most organizations are overestimating what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in a decade.