Why the advertising agency industry is broken

Now, I know this is a bold claim. So let me explain. When I say this, I mean the old-era advertising agency model is unfit for purpose because no guarantees are given.

Why the advertising agency industry is broken

Advertising agencies have been around for decades, from greats like Saatchi & Saatchi to MediaCom and BBD. However, times have changed. Businesses are under increasingly more pressure, with the cost of living crisis significantly impacting audiences whose purchase patterns change daily. Yet, what has stayed the same is the advertising agency industry model. 

My career in the advertising agency has spanned over 20 years. Whether I’ve been working directly for some of the biggest media owners in the industry, including GCap, Global, Titan and Newsquest, or owning and directing my own multi-million-pound media businesses, I’ve gained a wealth of experience along the way.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt? The advertising agency industry is broken.

Now, I know this is a bold claim. So let me explain. When I say this, I mean the old-era advertising agency model is unfit for purpose because no guarantees are given. From the start of my career until now, the agency model has not changed.  

Here are the two main problems. 

Firstly, there’s rarely any flexibility in the traditional ad agency model. Picture this, your business is hiring a new advertising agency. The senior directors will come to meet you and take your brief. Next, they return to their agency and hand your brief to a junior team. Then, the senior leaders come back and pitch their strategy to you. The process is static and linear; it’ll start at A and finish at Z. There’s defined deliverables each month and creative which looks pretty, but more than creative is needed to generate an ROI. This is great for the agency. They stick to their structure, plan out their workload, and can take on more clients using this stagnant, rinse-and-repeat process.

Secondly, you’ll be expected to pay an agency management fee every month for being their client, and you’re never given any guarantees of how often you’ll see a real tangible ROI. Agencies shy away from guaranteeing this.

You’ve got a lot on your plate, and your marketing team is stretched or may even be a one-man band, so you appoint an agency and are at their mercy. You rely on their expertise, assured by the experience of the senior people who won your account that they know what they’re doing. That’s got to be enough. You don’t need any guarantees that what you’re paying for will deliver results—madness when you put it plainly.

With these problems in mind, how can we fix the advertising agency model? Two simple solutions.

Plan to be flexible

Anything can happen in business and in life. Environmental changes, unforeseen business challenges, economic changes, and exceeding sales targets. Good and bad, you name it, there are so many variables the traditional agency model does not account for. Yes, create moving and stimulating creative, but ensure your communication strategy is commercially loaded, with robust metrics that track pounds and pence in the till, not clicks and impressions. Ditch the linear, piecemeal approach. If something needs to be fixed or external factors change, it’s time to change direction. You can go from A to Z, but be bold and take a few B roads along the way.

Track backwards to guarantee results

Defining key targets and metrics by working backwards from research and audience profiling will help you guarantee results – make targets achievable with realistic budgets and timeframes, then start with the end in mind.

Last year, I launched Rebel Lion Advertising, a new-era agency with the ethos of being “designed to do things differently”. The above works because we do this at Rebel Lion Advertising. The approach means we can guarantee results, build excellent relationships and future-proof our clients’ businesses.

These solutions can transform the advertising agency industry to adapt just as rapidly as the world changes. The result? A fit-for-purpose future approach.

Matt Jones
Matt Jones

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