I’ve been extremely busy balancing work and my new role as a parent, so AttentionMax has been suffering, I know. Laura and I are interviewing nannies and moving into our new home over the next 14 days, so I hope to be more settled and up for air in March. In the meantime, I hope my continued weekly op-ed columns are worthwhile. Here’s my latest one, a reaction to the excessive "You" craze we’ve been enduring recently, and my disagreement over Ad Age’s decision to name "you" agency of the year. There’s some good feedback arriving in the MediaPost blog comment area.
2006 Agency Of The Year: Nobody
By Max Kalehoff, January 12, 2006
You, you and you, again! It seems that’s all we hear now, thanks in part to Time’s naming of “you” as person of the year. And praise to you recently extended beyond mainstream and into the marketing-agency world, exemplified by Ad Age’s naming of you as agency of the year. That’s where I draw the line.
Let’s get things straight. You, the individual, are more important to marketers now because you now have a digital megaphone in which to expose, codify and amplify what you’ve always done: express yourself, including your experiences with brands. Your expressions now are positioning, promoting and influencing brands in ways that often are more creative, compelling, credible and powerful than those of the professional agencies that brands still hire today. But should you, the individual, be crowned agency of the year? No.
Frankly, I’m not sure if anyone deserves to be agency of the year, because nobody really knows what’s going on in this turbulent phase of marketing and advertising. At best, an agency can be humble, adaptive, speedy and experimental; those factors represent today’s ultimate competitive advantage. Anyone who claims mastery and full confidence is either misguided or disingenuous. And that is a major reason why “nobody” should be named agency of the year.
Nobody? Sure, several shops–large and small–have achieved great things in 2006. That is especially true for an emerging genre of agencies, which I sometimes describe as alternatives and amateur outsiders–like the folks behind Eepybird and Lonelygirl. Wrongly referred to as “consumers,” these new content creators, formerly hindered by media-pipeline scarcity, now are empowered by democratized publishing technologies. They are a disruptive force to be reckoned with. But in the end, I’m still waiting for an agency to truly lead and blow the industry away. Some are getting closer, but not close enough.
What should an agency of the year look like? In my eyes–in this era of the rising “you”–an agency must embody ten critical attributes and capabilities:
1. Foremost, agency staffers must be passionate about acting in the interest of consumers as much as they are in the interest of paying clients. You must do good things in the world and reciprocate with others. Tolerance for anything else is waning.
2. The agency must drop tactical communications from its core positioning and instead embody the value of creating great experiences, with tactics following.
3. The agency must embrace a world where paid media placements lose overall traction, and instead master the new currency of word-of-mouth, where reputation and propensity to recommend are earned. These latter factors increasingly determine your ability to communicate and be noticed; they are the new media pipeline.
4. The firm must strive for everlasting client partnerships, not because of insatiable desire for ongoing revenues, but because it understands that programs which achieve deep, ongoing customer experiences and loyalty are incompatible with a start-peak-end model. It’s all about a transition from campaign to platform mentality.
5. An agency of the year should be one that first evaluates the client’s internal processes and culture, to ensure those dimensions optimize opportunities for greatness, not hamper potential.
6. The agency must gain expertise in areas of innovation, product and customer service–versus solely on marketing communications. When the client fails to deliver those fundamentals, the agency must recognize that any advertising or marketing communications will only threaten or erode the client’s brand, or simply waste money. Yes, sometimes the client’s baby is ugly, and it needs help beyond advertising or marketing communications.
7. The firm will value institutional customer-listening as a core competency far more than institutional speaking.
8. Enterprise creativity will stem not from a creative department, but collectively from a group of staffers with diverse disciplines, each with the ability to think creatively, abstractly and from different vantage points. These passionate staffers will often have backgrounds in digital, science and algorithms, multimedia, social sciences, history, arts, culture and more.
9. The agency may get out of the advertising business, for the most part, and perhaps outsource the more tactical aspects.
10. The agency increasingly will recognize and organize around you, the individual.
To be sure, there were some great marketing and advertising agencies in 2006 that did outstanding work and should be celebrated. Many existing and new agencies also are moving toward the unconventional model I describe. But I still pick nobody as this year’s agency of the year, because nobody truly embodied my ten criteria in totality.
Now, forget what I think. Most important, what do you think?