Why I’m already sick of the ‘full service agency’ debate

Full service agency

One of my schoolteachers used to tell us ‘never try to go back’. He was quite good at life advice, but rubbish at parallel parking. (You see, consultants can tell jokes. We just choose not to.)

It might just be me, but almost everywhere I went last week, I kept running into agency people desperate to give me their views on the return of the ‘full service agency model’.

For cheap entertainment and the purpose of making my point, I’ll arbitrarily divide these agency people into four groups, then brutally over-simplify what they were saying.

The Nostalgics

The first group are what we might call the Nostalgics. For them, the simple wrong turn made 20 years ago was to separate media agencies from advertising agencies. And, since nothing else has changed in marketing over that time, all we have to do is go back to when creative ideas were all big ideas and media agencies put them on TV and everything will be simple once again. Brilliant. Clearly there are no flaws in this argument.

The Extremists

Let’s call the second group the Extremists. For them, everything in the current marketing and agency world is dead and there’s no in-between. Full service is dead because advertising is dead. Creativity is also dead. The big idea is dead. So is TV or any kind of broadcast medium. So are holding companies. All agencies are dead – and media agencies are extremely dead.

The trouble is, if you read this group’s frequent ranting blog posts for more than five minutes, it becomes quite hard to work out what’s actually alive. But at least that’s consistent – because they also believe that thinking anything is alive is dead.

The Data Led

The third – the data-led group – well, they’re a million laughs. Because each of those laughs is based on unique data points about the individual laughee’s recent laughing behaviour, optimised in real time and retargeted via their own laughing DSP.

For them, full service means all about the data. Nothing happens in a full service agency that isn’t based on data. It doesn’t matter much what happens, as long as it’s based on data. Everything is about the data.

If you don’t believe me, try offering one of these guys a cup of tea. Like I said, they’re a million laughs.

Dark Lords

The fourth group are the Dark Lords of the holding companies. They use words like synergies, leverage and bespoke. And bludgeon. Full service is pretty much anything they say it is – and that’s usually something they’ve just built. But don’t point that out. They know where you live.

If you’re still with me, then you might have spotted that I’m already fed up with the debate. And that’s not because I’m being cynical (not this time, anyway).

Factory Out View

It’s because the entire conversation so far has been ‘factory out’. Full service is all about what is on offer, what could be on offer, and how it all compares with what used to be on offer.

There’s no point whatsoever, to my mind, in arguing in public as an industry about answers – old or new or rehashed – when you haven’t even heard a question.

Although I obviously exaggerate for emphasis when I describe their views on full service, any of the four groups I encountered last week (and many I didn’t) can provide a completely valid solution to the specific requirements of a marketer – depending on what that marketer’s specific requirements are.

Full service is fully serviced?

Some incredibly data-smart marketers still require a broad-based agency relationship to create and place broadcast activity intelligently. Others need a seamless prototyping and amplification model, which they might easily find in a holding company solution.

Some marketers just need help with conceiving and building technical utility – for which there are many very smart, creative, capable agencies out there thinking way outside the established communications disciplines and doing brilliant work.

Other marketers require close data partnerships first and foremost from their agencies, and once they have that are happy to back their agencies in any discipline execution that results.

None of these models is anything other than full service, to my mind, since they deliver by definition the full requirements of the marketer in question.    

The future is diverse and complex

But that point is missed whenever the industry starts debating all of this through the frame of whether to return to some standard structural model of twenty years ago.

At TrinityP3 we believe it’s a brilliant time to be in agencies. There’s never been more opportunity, as far as we can see. Revolution is in the air. Leadership is there for the taking. The possibilities are enormous.

But if agencies limit themselves to shrieking at each other in public while looking inwards and backwards, many of those possibilities are likely to pass by unrealised.

TrinityP3’s Supplier Alignment service helps you to untangle your supplier roster, understand its strengths and weaknesses, and develop an optimal structure to improve your performance.

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