Agency of the future - beginning the transformation journey

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There is a need for some agencies to re-frame the way they look at their need to evolve. Instead of the default thinking being "we need to implement X technology, hire/fire Y person or merge Z departments" they should start asking, "what is really defining the problem space we are now in and what will be the major factors of change moving forward". Only from this point, can a relevant and grounded future be established.
  • 1. The Agency of the Future How can agencies begin the transformation journey they require? 5 Guiding principles. February, 2019
  • 2. You Broad, motherhood statements that ‘agencies must change or die’, are not helpful, nor needed. After almost 100 interviews with agency leaders globally and 20+ interviews with clients over three continents, we wanted to share our insight about how agencies can transform into a future vision of themselves. At the end of 2018, we released two initial sections of this white paper. Now, we’d like to share the remaining thinking. This is not a white paper which will provide the definite answer for which model to follow. Simply, because there is no one answer. It will however show a path and several tools of how to get there from what we saw as the common needs of agencies across our investigations. Drop us a line at to keep in touch. 11% 1 Billion The level of mistrust between advertisers and their media agencies increased to 40% in 2018, from 29% in 2016.* P&G cut $1 Billion USD from ad and production spend and still sees organic growth of up to 6% in last 4 years.** *ID Comms, 2018, **AdAge, 2018 know this
  • 3. The Agency of the Future challenge needs to be looked at via the broader mega-trend of societal and business transformation being driven by exponential disruption which technological change brings. Framing the challenge any differently will sub-optimise any strategic moves made.
  • 4. Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road. Thoughts on starting the journey correctly. Your Agency of the Future Without the correct starting point, framing the challenge imposed by the question of what should be the Agency of the Future, is meaningless. Too much of the debate and discussion we have observed on this topic, by quite senior people in the advertising industry, is binary. These are discussions of more/less digital, more/less data, more/less social, production, in-housing, outsourcing, AI, consulting etc., etc. Most limiting, is that the majority of the discussion is based on a narrow view of how the world has changed, how the world is changing and what the agency’s personal vision for the future is. Some agencies seem to be able to create future visions for their client’s brands, but, not for themselves. It is important that an agency’s view of the future and what it means is deeply imbedded in reality and shared by the leaders and change agents in the agency. It needs to be a future which is visceral, honest, based on well-considered evidence, and one agencies and clients are willing to move towards. There also needs to be a recognition that the future is not a definitive point in time to be reached. There will be different futures for different agencies. The reality that most traditional and large agencies are coming from a similar starting point, tends to obscure this fact. The Agency of the Future challenge needs to be looked at via the broader mega-trend of societal and business transformation being driven by the pace, density and unpredictability that technological change brings. Framing the challenge any differently will sub-optimise any strategic moves made. A strategic direction, based on a subset view of the actual challenge, will mean any direction taken will become exponentially more irrelevant over time. Alonso//Poli - Voltaire
  • 5. Signposts to enable the best future outcomes 5 Guiding Principles Be careful of ‘wisdom’ such as “we just need to get back to what we do best, create” or “it is really a data and influence game on social we need to play” or, “we need to own customers again through knowing their journeys”, and least of all, “the world will always need stories and storytellers, that is what we do”. Such do-it-yourself wisdom, which doesn’t have transformation at the heart, is at best self-serving, at worst fatal in an industry which is beset by complex change. We see the 5 Guiding Principles in this document as fundamental ingredients for any Agency of the Future transformation. Why these? In our research, we saw many agencies simply ‘jumping in the deep-end’ with their transformation approach - with limited thinking. Agencies were implementing new, marginal technologies; up-turning structures; hiring in avant-garde job titles and firing ‘legacy’ talent. These moves were largely without a strong sense of why or where the agency was going, let alone a strong plan of how to implement change. What was also missing was any deep thinking of how culture change (crucial for sustainability) would occur. This white paper talks to these gaps and the discussion looks to highlight the 5 principles which should be considered on any journey to create your Agency of the Future and overcome the pitfalls above. Abundant thinking. Immune responses How can technology bring abundant growth? How do you harness resistance against the change new growth brings? 03 Frame the problem correctly Do the analysis. Understand future scenarios and what drives change. Don’t limit thinking from the beginning. 01 It is complex. Think Core & Edge Explore many solutions. Build a roadmap with solutions that disrupt (Edge) & those which enable evolution (Core). 02 Don’t go it alone Collaboration and internal and external ecosystems are core aspects of successful change. Create yours. 04 Make change human centric, dynamic You are probably going to have to change, a lot, then change again. Iterate, learn & adapt with your people. 05 Alonso//Poli
  • 6. The real impact of technology is not the disruption - we have been dealing with that for centuries. It is the pace, density and unpredictability that disruption brings. Salim Ismail, co-author, “The Exponential Organisation” & Founding Executive Director, The Singularity University
  • 7. Start here. How is your agency evolving in the competitive landscape? To get the thinking juices flowing, challenge yourself to ask “Where is my agency in relation to the various models which are evolving?” Each model has a hypothesis of agency-landscape change which can inform thinking further down the track. An insight from this analysis, is that agency types are evolving in multiple streams. We are not seeing a race by scaled agencies to regress back to older models or new models trying to mimic traditional agencies at scale. Where does you agency stand now? TRADITIONAL AGENCY MODELS Alonso//Poli, Agency Competitive Landscape Analysis,, December 2018 EMERGING AGENCY MODELS Alonso//Poli * Changing positively through acquisition *
  • 8. The problem space If an agency does not properly define its current reality, nor have a solid understanding of the important realities which will impact its future, its ability to understand ‘the problem to solve’ is diminished to virtually zero. When do you know that you are really getting under the skin of knowing your reality? Honestly, when you and other people start feeling uncomfortable with the questions being asked, and the evidence being shown. The definition of the problem space needs to be visceral; felt emotionally and known intellectually. Be concerned if leaders in your agency are saying any of the following about understanding the problem space. “It is ok. I know what we need. We just need to implement x.” “There is no problem with us, its because of <insert client / technology / competitor / GAAFA / etc.” “Our people are just not good enough, we need new people.”* “This is all noise. I have seen this before. This will pass.” * Some leaders don’t realise the irony inherent in this statement until too late. Be encouraged if leaders in your agency are saying any of the following about understanding the problem space. “Who can we work with to better understand what’s happening and how we could change?” “Let’s go and really speak to our clients, what do they need moving forward?” “Let’s deeply understand the scenarios which will impact us.” 01
  • 9. How can an agency better understand its problem space? There are various approaches to really understand and define the problem space an agency finds itself in. Many are not revolutionary, the right one for an agency depends on many factors (largely cultural and internal). When assessing which methodology is best for your agency make sure the following elements are present. Ensure the methodology: 1. Creates a visceral understanding of reality 2. Provides clarity with potential options for change 3. Has the power to engage and align the agency Alonso//Poli Creates a visceral understanding of reality Has the power to engage and align the agency Provides clarity with potential options for change Ensures a deeply felt need for change is created which will be implemented Reality Ignites people to implement change as it is clear and agreed Motivation Gives a clear way forward based on sound knowledge of the situation and scenarios Direction The right model Approaches to defining a problem space vary. The following, if used correctly, hit the three key points above Methodologies Duval Union Consulting & Alonso//Poli Executive Journey Exo Lever Exo Sprint The Corporate StartUp Innovation Thesis
  • 10. Alonso//Poli How agencies can understand relevant change Within the multiple streams of change facing agencies, which are most relevant when defining the problem space? The 7 Metaphors© of change is a methodology to group the multiplicity of different trends into more digestible and focused areas. More than one of the 7 Metaphors may be relevant to an agency’s reality. Each requires interrogation and deep understanding. Each relevant metaphor then forms the launchpad for a strategic narrative to be built and solutions to be imagined. The Gatekeeper Describes the impact of changes in opinion making, leadership and new players which dominate attention Drivers of change: The new gatekeepers, Recommendations, Good is Good Enough, Ambassadorship The Traveller Describes the changing relationship between people, their devices and the world Drivers of change: Localisation, Utility, Empowered Self, Instant Gratification, New ways of working, Contextual Awareness The Frog Describes the forces which change the value chain within industries and sectors Drivers of change: Bypassing, virtualisation, fragmentation The Cyborg Describes the changing relationship between people and technology Drivers of change: Internet of Things, The Quantified Self, Artificial Intelligence, Data The Package Describes the impact of bundling, unbundling and re-bundling in the digital world Drivers of change: APPification, Long Tail, Personalised, Experience, Speed, Price, (Self)-service, Scalability, Monolithic vs. atomic The Participant Describes the changing relationship between people, organisations and brands Drivers of change: Community, Collaboration, Sharing Economy, The power of the cord The Glass House Describes the changing relationship between the organisation and the outside world Drivers of change: Transparency, accountability, proximity, responsiveness, bi-directionality, humanization, authenticity ©Duval Union Consulting (in partnerships with Alonso//Poli) Metaphors The 7
  • 11. Core & Edge This is a story about battleships and speedboats. No organisation can change all the things it wants to at the same time - nor should it. The disruption and dislocation this would cause would likely destroy the business. Of course, if the situation is absolutely dire, then drastic measures may well be the only option. Duel speed transformation is a proven way to effect transformational change. Keep the core of the agency stable with lower impact change (so the Battleship can provide stability) and disrupt with highly innovative initiatives at the edge (send idea speedboats out to quickly test/learn/scale new business models/markets/customers/technologies etc.) What characterises a Core Initiative ? ● Aligned to agreed upon problem space ● Improves the agency’s primary business model ● Relatively quick to implement ● Fall into more traditional ‘business improvement / enhancement’ initiatives ● Lower risk of failure ● Not necessarily technology focused ● Typically referred to as Horizon 1 projects. See next What characterises a Edge Initiative ? ● Aligned to agreed upon problem space ● Develops a new business model into existing or new markets ● Higher risk of failure ● Takes iterative/design thinking/agile approaches ● Medium/long term, timeframes to implement and see ROI ● Typically applies technology first thinking ● Typically referred to as Horizon 2 or 3 projects. See next 02
  • 12. Use ‘Horizon Planning’ to map Core vs Edge initiatives Capturing the initiatives so that the business gets a sense of their impact and timeframes is important. Horizon planning is one way of achieving this and give a sense of drastic the imagined changes will be for the agency. Horizons speak both to how the initiatives impact the business, and the likely time frame being looked at to implement the initiatives, adding at least 12 months at each Horizon step is not an unrealistic first assumption on timing. ● Core : Horizon 1 / 2 initiative ● Edge: Horizon 2 / 3 initiatives Alonso//Poli Horizon 1 solutions Horizon 2 solutions Horizon 3 solutions Products / Services / Technology / Business Models Markets Source: Adapted from McKinsey ‘Horizons’ Thinking
  • 13. Abundance & Immunity Two concepts, at first seemingly unrelated, have been a strong and recent part of the thinking when organisations are looking at creating their version of the future. Abundance is about examining your agency and reframing the way you look at its pieces to see abundance, where once you saw liability or fragmentation. Capitalising on abundance in your agency is created primarily by examining how, through the application of technology, your agency can flourish. Don’t just think about the ‘standard’ agency technologies either - what about innovation, culture, learning, talent management and productivity technologies? See next. Immunity responses are seen in all types of organisms, including organisations and agencies when stressed by change. People are resistant to change and exhibit various behaviours in response to it - many of these behaviours are not constructive. If not harnessed, they can derail any change initiative or process. Developing and engaging a ‘change agent’ strategy (see section 5) is a powerful way to work with immune responses to aid change. A story to inspire abundant thinking.. In 1990, delivering letters accounted for 70% of the France Post service turnover; in 2020 it will be less than 20%. The company is looking for new ways to make a profit from its 73,000 postal workers. Instead of seeing them as a cost, it imagined what forms of abundance this network could bring. So, they launched a new service called “Watch Over My Parents” which allows customers to pay for postal workers to check on their elderly relatives. Since its launch in 2017, more than 6,000 customers are paying approximately 250 Euros a year for the service. The ‘abundant’ idea was enabled through technology. All communication is via a custom app which offers direct communication between the elderly person, their family and the postal worker, it tracks and manages the entire service. 03
  • 14. What types of technologies could agencies consider? Often, when agencies think about the introduction or use of technology, it is largely a discussion on enhancing existing business models (ie. programmatic platforms, social media tools etc) or applying technology to functions and processes once done without technology (ie. media plan development and management). Transforming your agency will mean needing to look a lot more broadly at the role technology can and should play. The diagram to the right helps to capture both tried-and-tested and newer technologies to consider outside of the ‘default’ technologies often cited first. Alonso//Poli Periodic Table for ‘Agency of the Future’ Technologies
  • 15. Better together Undertaking the task of agency transformation is best done in partnership. Not only in partnership with clients, but, with other key stakeholders relevant to bringing your specific Agency of the Future vision to fruition. Some things to keep in mind: ● Depending on what that vision is, the partnerships will vary ● Don’t limit your thinking regarding which partnerships to include ● The design process you choose should have partnership thinking baked into its process via the identification and inclusion of key ‘users’ ● Partners will play one or more roles - support, advise, beta-test initiatives, investment, etc. Clients TechnologyConsultants Sister Agencies Internal Teams Your Agency 04
  • 16. Being human Arguably, the most important aspect of any agency transformation process is people. The reasons for this are broad, deep and largely self-evident. Without involving the right people in the business, iimagining , implementing and sustaining any change initiatives will have failure baked in from the outset. What you may see, by railroading change through your agency, are perhaps a one or two year financial uptick, but, a deep loss of faith, motivation and talent which will undermine sustainability and further change down the track. We’ve seen this too often. Engaging team members can take many forms. Baked into solid design thinking is the continual feedback and involvement of team members. Any sound design process will facilitate teams being involved through all initiatives. Through this involvement, a culture of agility and learning will also be built. There are many approaches to engendering team involvement as part of an agency transformation process, some of these are outlined below with tools to support. Change Leads Change Teams Change Agents Change Partners ● CDO ● Chief Innovation Officer ● Agile teams ● MVP teams ● Champions across agency ● HR Department ● Consulting Partners Change systems / approaches / tools to support teams & individuals 1. Human centered design principles and approaches 2. Transformational Readiness Audits across agency. See next 3. Digital training and upskilling 4. Implementation of communication processes and channels (road shows, lunch & learn sessions, innovation excursions etc.) 05
  • 17. How ready is your agency to change? Transformational readiness factors in people, operations, the context of the business and the crucial element of leadership. The example to the right, is an extract from a more comprehensive Alonso//Poli audit framework. These audits are not just about ticking boxes and providing scores. They perform the helpful task of beginning and aligning the internal dialogue on the need and direction of the transformation required. It helps you understand, ‘Where to start?’ Used properly, they break down walls, bring disparate mindsets together, can offer tracking on progress when repeated over time and begin creating shared language for change. Alonso//Poli The degree to which the real 'Problem Space' is known, considered, and included in the agency change process. Market & Customer Insights What is the degree to which change direction is based on a clear customer and market reality and insight? The majority of our new product or service development is from the 'inside-out' New project teams have a validated external market need they are addressing To what degree is there a language of customer centricity from senior management? Language of customer centricity does not exist Customers are in the middle of the decision making process across the agency
  • 18. The discussion isn’t about the Agency of the Future model, it is about moving towards your Agency of the Future model.
  • 19. Monica is passionate about de
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