Sunday, March 30, 2008

April 08 - Death of the agency?

A couple of weeks ago I attended a presentation from a company that specialised in content. Yes content. Now I don’t know about you, but if there’s one buzzword I’d like to put a stop to, it’s content. It’s such a nothing kind of word.

You never hear TV channels advertising their new and upcoming shows as content. They talk about programmes, premieres or must watch, anything to get you excited about their offering. Excitement, I think, is what’s missing when people use terms like content.

Suffice to say, there was plenty of excitement in the presentation I was at. The so called content was actually pretty interesting, way more so than the term content would have you believe.

I had a bit of spare time when I got back to the office, so I decided to see what the blogosphere had to say about content. My first port of call was The Kaiser Edition, where Marcus Brown and his cohorts had recently set people talking with a provocative post entitled “Content will kill your agency.”

“I sense an argument brewing,” wrote Marcus, “but that’s ok. We can have an argument and chew things over. No one gets hurt. I’ve been thinking about this for a while.” His basic idea is that the current agency model and the work that they do, is doomed. Unless, he says, “Your agency starts creating content.”

To tell you the truth I was taken aback by what Marcus had to say. Which took me by surprise to be honest, given I’ve been banging on for years about how agencies need to start doing more than just making ads.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a 30 second TV ad actually a piece of content? If it is, and I believe it is, then what is this mythical agency killing content that Marcus is talking about?

“The kind of content that will kill your agency,” says Marcus, “happens without a brief - nobody has told you or the so called business development people in your agency that they would like to have a specific piece of content.”

Sounds a bit like marketing anarchy to me. A bunch of people dreaming up stuff with no strategy or direction, which they then on-sell to a client. And if the client doesn’t like it, they simply take it elsewhere and try their luck all over again.

The more I thought about it, the more Marcus’ theory had me scratching my head. Then he went and turned the whole argument upside down with this;

“Every agency, regardless of size, is capable of producing content that would challenge anything that is currently on the market; whether that be film, television, literature, online, radio, games or events.”

No argument from me there, but how many marketing people are actually looking for their agency to bring them ideas for TV shows, a computer game or some other non-measurable event?

German blogger Sebastian Oehme left an insightful comment on Marcus’ post. In it he points the finger not at agencies, but marketers. “They are afraid of risks,” he says, “and only trust the safe ways given by market research.” He doesn’t stop there;

“Most brands have nothing to say anymore and don’t invent products that are loved by people. They care only about money, market share and growth. They call their customers a target group, not people.”

After reading Sebastian’s comment I clicked on a link to another content related post by Marcus. In it he clarified his position on content. “It will kill your agency because nobody is telling you what to do and you won’t have a mandate to do it.”

Seems like Marcus and I kind of agree. If marketing execs are not looking for their agency to develop and present non-advertising ideas to them, how does an agency get their client to support, fund and create them?

“You will have to work it all out for yourselves,” says Marcus. “You will have to fight harder for it, harder than you fight for stuff now. It will kill your agency because it’s not advertising, at least not as we know it today.”

Respected Sydney blogger, Gavin Heaton, has also weighed into the content debate. I’ll leave you with his thoughts;

“We have all become too focused on delivering to briefs at the expense of true innovation. The art of advertising is dying in our hands, and along with it, the business models around which agencies have flourished.

Content creation is the last bastion of creative resilience that is left to us. Everything else we have conceded to the accountants, consultants and digital folks hungry for growth and glamour. Now give me a drink, I am toasting the rising sea.”


The Kaiser Edition

Sebastian Oehme

Gavin Heaton


Gavin Heaton said...

Excellent article, Stan. Thanks for choosing one of my more eloquent pieces of content ;)

Marcus said...

Hello Stan, and there was me thinking that you didn't visit me anymore. You come in under the cover of darkness, when no one is looking. That's naughty, but I like it.

Chuffed to bits about this... many, many thanks.