Why Agencies Must Bet on Content

Last week on Digiday, Jack Marshall wrote about the need for agencies to start “stocking their strategic arsenals in the hope they’ll still be relevant to clients five or 10 years down the line.” While I certainly wouldn’t argue with Marshall on the need for agencies to provide strategic counsel, I’m not sure that’s what will set them apart, nor keep them in the good graces of their clients.

I believe this to be the case for two reasons, the first of which Marshall states in his article: “The research suggests 76 percent of agencies now provide strategic services, up from 59 percent in 2009. Only 16 percent of marketer clients surveyed, however, say they make use of them.” I’m not certain why that is, but my hunch would be that most agencies needlessly over-complicate their strategic counsel in the hopes of making themselves look like all-knowing wizards. Or perhaps, on the other side of the spectrum, clients aren’t making use of the strategic counsel provided because it’s not very good. Regardless of the reason, if only 16 percent are making use of it, few agencies will survive with that being their bread and butter.

The second reason is that the greater opportunity is in execution — just not in the types of executions they are normally used to doing. Gone are the days of disruptive advertising, ignored press releases or wasteful apps that provide no user benefits. Agencies have to learn the new new rules of engagement and guide clients towards providing consumers with culturally relevant content that they want to consume, engage with, participate in or otherwise interact with. While this may include Facebook and Twitter, platforms we now almost take for granted, it also includes a host of new opportunities that few agencies, and fewer brands, are ready to take on.

From gamification to transmedia storytelling, second-screen opportunities to Internet memes, consumers are looking for brands to provide new and innovative content that syncs with their lives and provides both entertainment and emotional connection. These are new territories, and in many cases, the paint is still wet. But that’s where the people are, and that’s what they are doing.

Yes, there will be a need, an urgent one, to create content strategies that integrate these new opportunities, but, crucially, there will be an even greater need to execute against those strategies as brands will not have the human resources – either in manpower or talent – to creatively leverage these opportunities.

Look for a new breed of agency, one that understands that a “culture first” approach is what wins the day, to emerge to take on these new challenges and win over clients.

Rick Liebling is creative culturalist at Young & Rubicam. Follow him on Twitter @rickliebling.