MarketingMarketing and Advertising

Shifting Sands

How should Ad Agencies be rebranded?

Marketing leaders can feel pressure to justify the dollars spent on advertising agency fees yet are reliant on external advertising industry suppliers to execute their brand strategies. They face questions regarding the future need for external agencies, their value and of course, their ROI.

Perhaps the advertising industry suffers from an identity crisis?  

Industry holding companies offer clients a smorgasbord of agency choice but these firms compete for the same share of the advertiser’s wallet. This makes agency growth and innovation difficult. To remain competitive and best in class, agencies must invest in advanced technologies to improve their legacy systems. Privately-held ad agencies also grapple with how to best define and position their services. The industry continues to morph through an era of disruptive change.

Even the official industry classification is starting to feel retro. The word advertising is a throw-back to the mad-men era, a time when a company bolstered its sales function by investing in one-way, outbound media to reach its prospects. No immediate consumer engagement was expected. Advertisers simply waited for a bump in sales.

In 2020, it begs the question:

How do we talk about the value proposition of the advertising agency universe in a way that resonates with corporate stakeholders as well as attracts the next generation of talent?

Is anything the same?

There remain three core competencies agencies contribute to effective marketing strategy:

Advertising agencies help clients:

  • unearth key insights to find what matters the most to high potential targets
  • create valuable and compelling brand narrative
  • deliver brand messages via selected media

Get this right and growth results. Get any of it wrong and dollars are wasted.

A crowded field of advertising industry agencies still offer brands this expertise. However, companies are quickly developing advertising skills with the latest digital competencies for themselves.

So what is different?

Advertising’s one-way street now has an incoming lane. Consumers are behind the wheel. The digital economy has fundamentally altered consumer expectations and behaviors.

Advertising activity, such that it is, is better viewed as a key part of the customer experience strategy, with design and personalization the hallmarks of what works the best.

The latest CMO Survey sponsored by the American Marketing Association and conducted among 8K marketing leaders affirms the significance of this trend; today’s marketers are focused on engaging with digitally wired consumers who use multiple devices to inform their consumer behavior decisions. A decade from now online marketing with omni-channel commerce is expected to be the majority marketing form.

In response to the shift to empowered consumerism, companies value modern skills sets, with a priority placed on creating consumer engagement and deepening analytics expertise. This orientation equips them to better understand their customers and innovate brand value faster. It also provides them with the data needed to demonstrate marketing ROI to C-suite stakeholders.  

The paradox is that the more digitally-informed and customer-centric marketing and media measurement becomes, the more complex is the expression of its value, and that of its ecosystem of suppliers. Hundreds of permutations of advertising and media actions and metrics now exist. We’re deeper into the woods as a result.

Who Goes There?

Forward-facing, integrated talent solutions include an artful mix of internal-to-company capability (via recruiting and training) as well the continued desire to mix in external agencies, specialty companies and consultancies. Marketing leadership is largely about orchestration and team building with a diversity of talented resources.


The seismic industry shift suggests it’s time to rebrand the advertising agency to elevate it within the company’s supplier network. Advertising pros will appreciate that properly naming something gives it power! With a single word choice, one can shift perceptions of a brand (or a profession), communicate its value and expand its competitive territory.

Like branding, sometimes the simple solution is genius and the answer lies within us. One practical approach is to more overtly position the advertising industry as part of the Marketing Services ecosystem, one that is fully representative of its many agents and agencies. It’s a big house with lots of rooms. This wider platform is one that the talented professionals employed at an est. 40K US-based advertising, public relations and media agencies can share. Next generation talent from creative, digital, media and mar-tech providers can relate to the emerging digital marketing services supplier ecosystem. Agencies become unified by the focus on customer experience, differentiated by specific role and expertise.

Why Shift Semantics?

Good question. Clients have a higher perceived value of their suppliers associated with marketing investment, influence and outcomes vs those that function as executional agents. The fee revenue opportunity that accompanies this perception is greater for strategic marketing suppliers than for ad agencies that risk a narrow association with the single lane advertising highway, aka the one heading away from the C-suite.

In summary, marketing decision-makers and their agency partners are well-served to re-position the advertising agency as a contemporary and strategic marketing resource supplier; agents that are instrumental to achieving marketing goals and deserving of marketing funding.

In re-branding the ad agency, we shift the industry forward with the times. We also accept that the nostalgic era of madvertising will likely be in our rear view mirror, soon to be retired and remembered, even if a bit romanticized.