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6 Changes Reshaping the Modern Agency in 2021

by Krista Thomas, January 12, 2021

Key Takeaways:

  • Accurate cross-screen measurement is both imperative and will require unprecedented levels of cooperation. 
  • Customer privacy will come first in a targeted, addressable media world.
  • Leveraging clean rooms to activate privacy-safe consumer identity will be a game-changer.
  • Trust and transparency are essential to stronger agency partnerships. 
  • Tech vendors have become mission-critical in the new agency framework.
  • Covid taught us that what worked six months ago isn’t going to work now.

As we move into 2021, there are many pressing issues that agencies need to tackle that will determine the health and longevity of their businesses. Cross-channel measurement, the explosive growth of addressable TV and connected TV, customer identity, and how the evolving Upfronts and NewFronts will influence the immediate and long-term future of advertising are just a few top-of-mind challenges. Not to mention Covid-19 and the formidable layer of complexity a global pandemic adds to the advertiser-consumer equation.

We recently conducted a series of interviews with senior level agency executives and brand marketers to identify some of the important changes and mind-shifts happening within the modern agency structure. Here’s what we heard from our brand and agency friends about the future of the new agency paradigm.

Accurate cross-screen measurement is both imperative and will require unprecedented levels of cooperation 

It’s time to get the industry’s smartest strategists and planners thinking about bigger picture client challenges. This starts with integrating technology that finally solves for how to achieve the ideal reach and frequency across all audiences in any given campaign. This also requires that as an industry and an ecosystem, we work to achieve—and eventually standardize—a unified measurement approach across all channels and platforms. By automating tedious yet mission-critical tasks and rationalizing our disparate measurement and attribution systems, we can unleash our collective problem solving skills and focus instead on optimizing business outcomes and driving growth. 

Customer privacy will come first in a targeted, addressable media world

How the advertising industry collects, stores, and uses consumer data will be the most pressing conversation and driver of change inside agency walls in the coming year. The imminent deprecation of Chrome’s third-party cookies and Apple’s IDFA will affect the industry at a magnitude that many advertisers have not fully fathomed. This will require brand marketers and agencies to roll up their sleeves and reimagine their relationship to customer data, reconsider the partners they need help from to solve these new data challenges, and figure out how they can achieve personalization at scale to meet new customer expectations.

Leveraging clean rooms to activate privacy-safe consumer identity will be a game-changer

Creating privacy-protected consumer identity resolution solutions is now essential, and there’s tremendous opportunity and demand for identity-first platforms. Enabling marketers to leverage clean rooms to activate privacy-safe consumer identity at scale will be a game-changer for agencies in 2021. So will the increasingly urgent efforts to create a unified measurement system across the media ecosystem. By focusing on elevating the quality of interaction between brands and consumers, a new agency model is emerging. It will convert hourly based agency/client relationships to an outcomes-driven, customer-first paradigm with highly skilled professionals using a rich array of data resources and software platforms to create and operate a brand’s custom “marketing operating system.”

Trust and transparency are essential to stronger agency partnerships 

In-house marketer expectations remain high even in times of decreased budgets and squeezed margins as Covid continues to impact ad spend across most business sectors. In turn, marketers’ frustration with agency partners hangs over them from legacy issues with trust and transparency. Meanwhile, some agencies are still smarting from when many ad tech vendors went brand-direct, launching the inhousing movement. In this era of Covid, with so much uncertainty—and yet unprecedented potential for changing old habits and “building back better”—we need to rebuild partnerships on all sides of the equation that are solidly based on transparency and commitment.

Tech vendors have become mission-critical in the new agency framework

The role that technology vendors formerly played within the agency structure has evolved alongside client desire for continued innovation, richer data capabilities, and fewer ad tech taxes. The more sophisticated Holding Companies and independent agencies of today increasingly regard ad tech vendors as critical strategic partners, helping them build and launch new solutions. When it comes to servicing some of their best customers, agencies now rely on ad tech to help them simplify workflow, consolidate platforms, and build breakthrough data capabilities for their clients. 

Finally, Covid taught us that what worked six months ago isn’t going to work now

Covid-19 changed our lives and work forever. The industry is resetting itself, shedding old habits, and creating new ones. The acceleration of agencies’ corresponding evolution is happening in real-time alongside the need for agile, purpose-built business models that can be iterated off of quickly. Collectively, we used to live in a world where innovation was a “test and learn” process, and then we’d go through the gradual process over a multi-year period of scaling across the organization. But agencies can no longer depend on long timelines to roll out new solutions. If Covid taught us anything, it’s that what worked six months ago isn’t going to work now. The only constant is change, underscored by the new reality that we all need to work closely together to keep pace and continue to meet and exceed client needs.

To read more content from Krista Thomas, please check out Three Transformative Lessons Learned From a Year of Covid-19, and CTV Myth Busting: Yes, It’s Confusing But CTV and OTT Are Different

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