So, on Wednesday this week I spent the evening at the #PRCADebate, which was the first industry event I’ve been to since leaving PRWeek behind last December.
It was good to catch up with friendly faces and meet some new ones but I have to say that I left the event feeling that not much had actually changed in the past three months.
In my eyes, the future of agency structures, as a subject, is about looking at the future of comms, but as H&K’s Director of Planning/Interactive Strategy Director EMEA, Candace Kuss, so correctly pointed out in her tweet: ‘#PRCADebate is about agency of today more than agency of the future. Topics and issues being discussed are real right now.’
Some useful insights were given by a few of the panel members, namely Edelman’s Marshall Manson, Adam & Eve’s James Murphy and Shine’s Mark Pinsent, which can all be seen on the Twitter feed for #PRCADebate, but I don’t feel that the debate’s rubric was actually dealt with.
Social media, as it was three months ago, was the buzz term of the night, with very little being added that hadn’t been said before. SEO was barely given a mention and content production was raised by Murphy but then went ignored.
All of these disciplines will shape the agency of the future but not as they are currently being used: as unconnected, individual tools.
My concern is that the industry has become idealistic, trying to imagine how the ‘new’ landscape will look, and missing what is happening now.
This was exactly what happened at the debate, a seemingly unresolved present made it impossible to consider the future.
With this in mind, I now turn to the master of evolutionary theory Charles Darwin for, what I feel, gives us a clue to how this discussion might move forward.
Darwin is often misquoted as saying: ‘The strongest survive’, when what he actually said was: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change.’
And adapt the industry must.
But, in concurrence with Darwin, I have to say that agencies need to be realists and fully understand what is currently happening around them. Adapting for some will be considerably easier than it will be for others and this is where we must look for the answer to what will be.
Restrictions will apply; finance, size, current internal structures, policy, people, knowledge, experience etc. These are, of course, the factors that will shape who progresses and who doesn’t and, indeed, issues discussed at the debate by the panel.
But Darwin also wrote: ‘In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.’
‘Collaborate’ and ‘improvise’. I believe Wednesday’s debate opened up a pan-industry dialogue, which is on the right track towards having a collaborative effect.
However, it is improvisation I fear is the problem. This is about taking chances and it will be those brave enough to work with their peers in other marketing disciplines who will learn, develop and conquer.
The future is no longer about the sort of integration we have all sent ourselves to sleep talking about for the past year, and continue to talk about, that of integrating digital media into the current agency model. It is about becoming an integrated marketing unit.
That will become the Darwinian survivor and whilst Galapagos-esque niches will hold their own, as the incredible species on those islands have, it will be the diverse and rich culture of the integrated marketing unit that will become the dominant species.
So, my suggestion: hold off on deciding what the end point will be, this utopian agency of the future, rather, focus on how you’re going to evolve.