It’s that time of year when the world starts to cast its gaze at the months ahead. The future of work continues to be a big question on the horizon of a society that is increasingly transformed by digital innovation, but this uncertainty is perhaps nowhere as strikingly pronounced as in the marketing world when we consider the evolution of the agency model. As a former ad agency owner, when I spent the better part of ten years balancing crazy clients and even crazier creative directors, it’s a space I continue to keep my eye on.
Agencies have been subjected to many of the same forces for change that have activated the rest of the business world. Brexit has called into question whether the UK will remain a choice market for non-European businesses looking to break into Europe – will we therefore see fewer UK agencies taking the ‘lead’ role to manage a European hub? At the same time, cloud computing has freed us from the tether of physical hard drives; GDPR has forced our industry to rethink data collection, storage and use; and digital transformation has us looking to AI and automation to make that data work harder for us.
It comes back to the same crux it always has for agency owners: "how do we do more with less" - although to answer that, we need to figure out how to reimagine #agencylife in a way that yields the most productivity in the new working realities of the 21st century. Ultimately, there are some casualties that agencies must accept if they are to thrive in this uncertainty and still be going strong in 2050. To do so, they will need to lean into the rise of SaaS-based technologies to carve out an environment that will deliver:
#1 The death of contracted hours
In the agencies of 2050, there will be no such thing as ‘contracted hours’. In fact, a YouGov study shows that, even now, just six per cent of UK workers are working a ‘normal’ 9-5 day while the UK’s Trade Union Council (TUC) has called for a four-day maximum working week. Employees should no longer be held accountable to the confines of 9 to 5, particularly as they can often find themselves far exceeding that number of hours. Six out of ten UK workers check their work emails even when on holiday, despite the fact that eight in ten would rather completely switch off.
The issue of work-life balance becomes even more prominent when you consider businesses that operate via an agency model where time literally is money! Profitability relies on billing power which means that agency employees need all the help with productivity they can get. The advent of smartphones means we’re rarely “offline” and so agencies, now and in the future, need to be able to offer cloud-based tools that are updated in real-time and accessible no matter when their employees are logging on.
#2 The death of the office
Similarly, another casualty the agencies of the future will need to accept is the end of office life. With the rising popularity of co-working spaces like WeWork, business travel becoming easier and cheaper to accommodate and a growing number of employees opting to work from home, offices are likely to become redundant in thirty years’ time. When you think that UK employees spend an average of 42.3 hours per week at work – the longest in the EU – the importance of a comfortable working environment becomes clear!
And in fact, it’s no bad thing for agency employers. It means reduced overheads, greater chance of good work-life balance and possibly increased productivity as four times more employees in 2018 perceive working from home to be the most productive option for them, compared to 2015.
#3 The death of the job title
As digital continues to disrupt everything and job titles and descriptions are becoming more nebulous, traditional job roles are being eroded. The fast pace and often high turnover in agency environments mean that they are experiencing this shift more acutely than most as often, in these types of company, a number of functions fall within a single person’s responsibilities. Customer experience alone, for example, is a responsibility that touches a number of departments across an organisation: product, HR, finance, IT, marketing etc. But in an agency, this could be solely owned by anyone from the CEO, the agency’s own marketing lead or even the office manager.
In many cases, you’ll find the same person ticking off jobs that belong to very disparate job sets: everything from tracking leads to scheduling invoices, issuing marketing communications to chasing late payments. Running between tasks to put out one fire after another, it’s not difficult to see why and how things can fall to the bottom of the pile. To navigate a world of dynamic job roles, small to mid-sized agencies need to have full view of the customer lifecycle, the sales pipeline and the finances. Only then will they be able to develop the holistic strategy required to drive engagement and loyalty from customers.
A long way off?
The agency we describe might be a long way off, but it’s driven by shifts that we’re already seeing today – employees’ expectations around flexible working, the ability to work remotely and evolving job roles. Although there are giant macro forces at work that are redefining the agency model we have been familiar with for the last few years, there are simple changes we, as professionals in the agency world, can make to ensure our businesses continue to thrive into the decades to come. Ultimately, it comes down to a shift in thinking and a recognition of the role of technology in disrupting the processes we’re used to but also helping us navigate these changes. The agencies that will prosper are the ones that embrace a few casualties in their worlds of work to make way for new, productive ways of working and delivering value for clients.
Alain Mevellec, co-founder and CMO, Sellsy
Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio