Back when Bill Bernbach changed the landscape of agencies by partnering art directors and copywriters we thought that this was a major revolution in agency team structure – finally the art department which had up until then really only been thought of as production took its merited role alongside the copywriters to come up with concept and creative. The next revolution in terms of agency teams is coming, and it is already happening in certain places, but unlike the creation of the art director / copywriter duo, today’s change is going to be much more dramatic because not only does it change those involved in the creation of the agency product but it changes the way the agency itself works.
So what is happening, and how is this driving change?
- Strategy is taking a stronger role in the product of the agency, and this means that more work is happening before the development of the creative brief, much like a consulting firm, hours are being spent analysing the positioning and competitive framework of an organisation along with reserach and focus groups on consumers and customers. This has seen the rise of the strategic planner from a back-room research guy to someone up front interfacing with the client. But this isn’t solely pre-brief since the panner is the person working with the client to develop the business challenge, they are also then working with creative to translate this challenge into a communications product. So from a team POV, the traditional account exec is losing ground to the strategic guy (see article the death of the account exec) or being forced to evolve to become a real business partner to the client.
- Technology is key to execution; we have suddenely jumped into the digital and internet era and now any campaign isn’t worth its name without some sort of banner, website, mobile app or location based service, and when you start to try and integrate these with the functionalities of Facebook and Twitter, you are very quickly faced with some technical challenges. So suddenly the other back-room guy, the developer, the coder, the geek is being brought into the mix at a much early stage to ensure that ideas are really feasible.
So what do these changes mean to the teams themselves?
These changes mean a change in the structure of agencies and in those agency teams that are what we call ‘client facing’. The traditional creative duo still exists but is sometimes becoming merged into one individual as they are accompanied by a strategist and sometimes a technologist too. The account exec either has the skills to become this strategist, or is simply being pushed back into the agency into a project management role, where he finds that he is also under pressure by those professional (PMP, Agile, etc.) project managers who are bringing structure, efficiency and organisation to the agency.
The new team doesn’t need the account exec unless he has the skills to add real value, and so we are seeing a change in agencies from the Mad Men relationship guys to real strategists and real creatives – maybe finally the agency is becoming less about booze and cigarettes and reaching its maturity in a real skillset…