Will agencies become obsolete?

A potential new model

Don’t get me wrong. I love creative agencies. I have hired them, been employed by them and even owned one. But I wonder if creative agencies will survive in their current incarnation.

Consider the following trends:

  1. Disintermediation by vendors with creative capabilities-A recent New York Times article on Facebook entitled, “How Facebook Sold You Krill Oil,” says it all for me. The article describes the “Publishing Garage” sessions Facebook holds with marketers. The purpose of these sessions is to develop “a big sweeping campaign,” as well as specific Facebook ads. Whoa! I thought that is what the creative agency did. Closer to home in the Pharma space, there is a multichannel marketing company, Metanexgen, that will shoot as well as distribute your physician videos, for a fraction of what an agency would normally charge.
  2. Evisceration of the agency strategic function-With client Sourcing departments manically fixated on achieving the lowest blended rate, the creative agency’s ability to bring their strategic staff to the table has declined dramatically.  And agency personnel, who are not at the client table billing, don’t’ last more than one or two cycles of budget cuts. Not with razor thin agency profit margins. A vicious cycle ensues. No longer staffed to provide the strategic firepower, the agency is rarely consulted on strategic issues. As one veteran pharmaceutical marketer told me, “What am I going to learn from a 28 year old account director with 5 years of experience?”
  3. Availability of open-sourced creative solutions-A Pharma friend of mine needed a logo for his pivotal Phase III study. Did he call an agency? No, he went straight to 99Designs and got a great logo for $400. He received submissions from around the world in a matter of 48 hours. Multiple rounds of revisions occurred at lightening speed and he was done. I had a similarly positive experience designing a new logo for a start-up financial company using 99Designs.

Working directly with an open-sourced creative source does however, take time and experience. At this point in my career, I felt totally comfortable. But at an earlier phase with fewer campaigns under my belt, probably not. And brand stewardship, a role generally assigned to the lead creative agency, becomes an issue when dealing directly with vendors like Facebook and Metanexgen.

That’s why I predict that a new “Marketing Integrator/Curator” agency (or creative consultant) will emerge in the future. The current agency business model can’t support a full creative staff by sending a few creatives to a two-day Facebook meeting. This new “agency” will work with clients to select the vendors that make business sense and curate the creative process.

In the pharmaceutical industry, where extrovertic does most of its work, there will always be a place for big agencies launching the big blockbuster brands. Big agencies have the process and scale and creative firepower to get things done effectively and efficiently.

However there will be fewer and fewer of these blockbuster budget opportunities. The emergence of smaller specialty and orphan brands, with their correspondingly smaller budgets, is forcing marketers to reconsider how they get things done. With client-side staffing unlikely to grow dramatically, there will be a critical gap.  Just as nature abhors a void, so do clients. That’s why the Marketing Integrator/Curator role holds a lot of promise for the future.