Despite a rapidly evolving post-PC marketplace, many clients continue to be distracted by the need to keep up with the Joneses and consider the image of their agency of choice, as opposed to its core competencies.

Organisations expect that their existing agency can glide them effortlessly into the new, smart technological era, but need to understand that most traditional agencies have not yet made the transition from the old and embraced the new.

We now see the need for a new kind of agency – one that understands how to navigate the organisation through the fast-paced and ever-changing landscape. This agency works together with the client and its existing agencies in an effort for mutual learning, acting as one of the ‘pilot fish’ that guide the organisation to its goals.

A key understanding that clients need to recognise is that post-PC strategy is about more than just how to use super cool devices. Communication platforms and engagement strategies in our digitally-enabled world need to support all marketing initiatives, both offline and online and be truly multi-channel. Yet digital maturity is one area where brands and agencies are playing catch-up with consumer demand.

A digital devolution
Against this highly complex backdrop, the reality is that if any major vendor is going to have only one agency, they’re restricting themselves because a single agency, and especially the traditionally large agencies, simply cannot see everything.

Techcrunch.com recently featured an article which stated, “A siloed approach to mobile has been commonplace over the past couple of years. Many agencies have supplemented traditional creative with mobile ads that lack a larger strategy, subbing out app development that offers no real value and failing to thoughtfully consider the best platforms and devices for mobile campaigns. “The shift to a more optimized mobile experience is not merely because the industry is a year older, but because enough agency and brand leadership are seeing a critical mass of mobile and multi-channel initiatives bear fruit. Marketers are realizing the growing risk of doing nothing. “This year, the market demands a more entrepreneurial mindset. Mobile is not just the hot topic of the moment — it’s the future. Embracing this reality requires a shift in thinking and many brands still do not have a mobile or encompassing digital strategy in place. Moreover, many agencies are still growing a set of basic mobile capabilities. Creating both smartphone and tablet-optimized experiences, along with the increasing need to pick platforms and develop apps, is becoming the norm.” Agencies Show Their Age On Mobile – David Hewitt (Saturday, February 11th, 2012)

Agencies of our size and more importantly of our ‘genre’, constantly get the gripe, “You’re too small, too boutique”, while being interrogated about the succession planning structures which we have in place. Clients want innovation but are still concerned that app dev agencies are not big enough, which incorrectly translates to us not being as good as a big agency. What they don’t realise is that the agencies in our market space are exactly what they need in their post-PC arsenal. Being developers (tinkerers and problem-solvers), we thrive in a culture of constant learning, which is the perfect approach to a dynamic environment such as ours. Our view is that if your agency isn’t learning, it’s not growing and if you’re not holding them accountable for learning, then what exactly have they done for you lately?

This is something foreign companies have long since picked up on, with adage.com stating, “In today’s increasingly complex marketing environment, clients are reaching out to a broader range of agencies to gain new channel expertise and fresh perspectives.” This is especially true as digital continues to grow and branch out into social media, online content and mobile backed up by a recent ANA Digital Marketing Compensation survey which found that 39% of marketers are now using five or more agencies in the digital space alone.

A recent example of the ongoing devolution of agency responsibilities among large US-based companies is US retailer JCPenney. Late last year, under the new leadership of Ron Johnson (formerly the head of Apple retail), JCPenney made a big change in its advertising agency roster when it brought in a new smaller size agency, Peterson Milla Hooks, to work on its general market creative account. In the previous five years, this portfolio has been exclusively handled by Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, part of the Publicis Groupe.

Interestingly, at the time, a spokesperson commented that the sharing arrangement is “…part of our multiagency strategy (with) other agencies that we work with to handling tasks like media services, digital ads and creating ads for Hispanic consumers”.

Find a place in the sun
So it’s definitely time to ask yourself, “Where do you and your brand belong?” We’re not saying everyone can be everything all of the time. For example, we are not a media-buying agency, nor do we wish to be but we are an expert in the craft of code and digital expression, and that’s where we’d like to add value when we can.

The sad fact is that more often than not, agencies are seen to co-opt with jargon and ‘poppies’ what they don’t understand and cannot deliver – in this case it’s the post-PC landscape, much as they did with online. This is made all too clear by the fact that there are very few people for whom the penny has dropped in SA, that apps are a new medium not an extension of online.

The bottom-line is that the post-PC revolution has made multidisciplinary teams a prerequisite for successful delivery. In this context, the traditional agency has an evolved role as the choreographer of a multifarious service supply chain. This means that they have to be more equitable in sharing profits and it also means that the Geeks and the creative Princesses will finally have to learn to get along because the industry is not dying, it’s just evolving.

Please note this article was originally commissioned by AdVantage magazine and is due to be published in its April 2012 issue.