Friendly Advice and Support for Agencies After the iMedia Agency Summit

Yesterday in Phoenix a panel of industry pioneers discussed the ideas and attitudes that helped them create this wonderful, exciting, crazy mixed-up space where we all make our livings. When the panel moved to audience participation, discussion turned to what our industry needed for the future.
There were many great ideas, but I’d like to posit that the most important thing that can happen for digital is that agencies begin to have more confidence in their own value and uniqueness.
I mean that in an incredibly supportive sense. After spending three days with these agency innovators, it’s rather difficult not to come to the conclusion that agencies are collections of remarkable and talented people. But that they are compensated by many clients as if they are full of cogs and flywheels. Functional yet wholly interchangeable.
The agency world has become commoditized. No great revelation there, I know. But perhaps worst of all, that commoditization seems to have sunk into the way that many agencies perceive themselves. Too many discussions center around what they would like to do but alas they cannot afford to.
I made the switch from buy- to sell-side about two months ago, and one of the first differences I felt was in the spirit of the people in the organization I worked for. On the sell side, there is a sense of collective confidence. What I remember from the agency side were endless discussions of limitations and barriers.
Agencies possess arguably the most important piece of the puzzle – creativity. Brands need ideas more than ever, and what constitutes an idea has evolved from a creative-driven concept to an integrated idea reflected in execution, media, and more.
Agencies, inasmuch as your identities get defined by activity, the commodity assessment is tough to live down. But that’s not really what you sell or should be selling.
As I sat in the main session at iMedia, I kept thinking about the parallel to the coffee business in the 1980s, and how the name of the game was to deliver a modicum of profitability by cutting costs. Cutting the percentage of expensive Arabica beans in favor of the cheap yet bitter Robustos. Then slashing the price to eke out a little volume. The race to a bitter bottom.
And then! Starbuck’s and Gloria Jean’s upended reality. And tens of millions of people who would never have dreamed of spending a whole dollar on a cuppa suddenly stood in line to pay $4.
Hey, there are and will always be agencies that exude confidence. This post isn’t for you. This is for all the great people who don’t always feel their greatness because they feel trapped in a race to the botom of comp and service. You’re not cups of generic coffee. You’re Venti Mochas with Whip. It’s time to get your collective groove back. Or should that be foam?