Why finding the ‘best idea’ may not be the best idea

As traditional CRM agencies add creative departments to better serve clients’ 360-degree needs and creative agencies add data capabilities to better target and track campaigns, boundaries between what types of agencies should be handling what duties are crumbling. While integration and silo deconstruction are not news to most, I was surprised to learn last week from Ben Sutherland, global head of direct at Mindshare, that media agencies are getting in on the creative solutions game, hardly a traditional media agency’s wheelhouse.

This convergence of competencies means clients have more leverage in harvesting great ideas from more places. In April, Diageo did away with the idea of a lead agency and instead began looking for the best idea amongst its roster of agencies.

In a conversation I had yesterday with Sharon Napier, CEO, and Jeff Gabel, chief creative officer, of Partners & Napier, they agreed that the job is far more difficult now but also far more exciting since data and technology provide opportunities for wider and deeper engagement. The agency landscape is a more level playing field, they said, which makes for a more open exchange of ideas across agency rosters. Nick Moore, chief creative officer at Wunderman, echoed that sentiment in an interview earlier this year, as well.

Casting a wide net certainly makes sense from a brand perspective, but the cost to agencies appears to be taking its toll down under.

Leo Burnett Sydney reportedly resigned its 10-year relationship with Subaru in the wake of the car maker’s strategy to let each of its agencies pitch for individual projects as they arise, according to the Brisbane Times. The resources it took to complete each pitch outweighed the overall benefit of that approach for the agency, prompting Todd Sampson, Leo Burnett Sydney’s CEO, to reportedly walk away from a longtime client.

Having never had the benefit of targeting consumers by means of a robust list industry the way US agencies did, Australian brands have traditionally relied on more courageous creative ideas to garner consumer attention and engagement. The pressure of coming up with a great idea, then, fell to agencies, who now find themselves on rosters divided against themselves and just as fragmented as the media they’re using to reach consumers. Hardly a formula for long-term creative or brand consistency, nor for the health of any agency’s bottom line, as new business teams are no doubt spread thinner and overstressed while seeing diminishing returns.

It’s hard to imagine such a backlash happening domestically given the growing revenue and new business opportunities most agencies are enjoying as the recession’s grip loosens, but brands looking for the best idea amongst its roster may sooner than later be have a smaller pool of agencies from which to draw those brilliant ideas.

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