The Death Of The Advertising Specialist


A friend of mine was referred to a series of medical specialists recently and each doctor focused on their own very specific area of expertise. While they were able to rule out the cause within their narrow field, ultimately, none of them could really figure how to solve the real problem.

Many marketing directors now face a similar challenge. They need to grow their brands, but they rely on an arsenal of disparate marketing specialists for SEO, their website, public relations, content production, programmatic, social media, influencer marketing, media buying, branded content, reporting and analytics — the list goes on. And with uncharted areas like the Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual reality (VR) on the horizon, the list will only continue to expand.

That’s why the specialist model for advertising is becoming completely untenable and more senior marketing leaders are calling for a re-bundling of services back into one house. As examples, Marc Pritchard, CMO of Procter & Gamble, commented, “We’re looking for a higher degree of consolidation to make integration and interdependence more effective.” Maurice Levy, CEO of Publicis Group, highlighted that their future core account team will be run by “multispecialists.” Agency reviews by McDonald’s and AT&T resulted in bundled services with dedicated client teams as well.

Control Your FOMMO

Most marketing directors suffer from F.O.M.M.O.: “fear of missing marketing opportunities.” It’s difficult not to, considering the pace of change in media and technology. Marketers are torn by two incompatible desires: to be everywhere relevant at once and to have a consistent, coherent message across those platforms. Hiring a bunch of specialists to cover the emerging media gamut is a recipe for a fractured message.

Marketing only works when there is a consistent message. Yet specialists, by design, are more invested in their category than the client. Asking an SEO consultant whether you should spend more on SEO is like asking a barber if you need a haircut. Ask them for broader marketing solutions and they will inevitably look through a singularly focused lens. A roster of agencies that are following their own self-interest without consideration of the overall goals of the marketer is an expensive misuse of funds.

In contrast, full-service agencies sit in a better position to provide efficient solutions — they can see a more holistic view of objectives across channels and partners.

More Media Tools, Fewer People

The number of brand touch points will continue to grow, but that doesn’t mean that brands will need to hire more people or more agencies. Nick Brien, CEO of iCrossing, predicts that agencies will cut their head counts by a quarter over the next five to 10 years because of displacement by AI and automation. More agencies will leverage tech for data tracking and measurement whenever possible to keep ahead of the digital and social metrics in real time and apply learning across channels. Agencies, branded content shops or whatever you want to call us, will pair with clients for strategy, creative development and media insights with a core team to drive brand growth with consistent messaging.

At the same time, similar to the Hollywood business model, more agencies will take a flexible approach to staffing and ingratiate freelancers on a project basis on the specialty side. Such an approach takes advantage of the country’s growing base of independent contractors and the need to be agile in the face of a fast-changing marketplace.

The appeal of such a model is that one full-service shop coordinates services that were previously handled by specialists and clients trying to keep up. This approach cuts costs, employs top industry talent and ensures that the brand retains a consistent voice and approach across channels. Not to mention it makes the marketing director’s job a lot easier knowing that they have someone else also minding the store.

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The Future Agency As A Smartphone

A few years ago, business was thriving for those manufacturing devices that provide GPS navigation. But now no one uses those because smartphones have built-in GPS. Similarly, tablet sales have fallen as smartphones have gotten bigger and made tablets superfluous.

The full-service agency of the future will follow the path of the smartphone. In what has been called “the great bundling,” services like SEO, digital display and social media will once again be handled by a single agency. This makes it easier and cheaper for marketers to deliver a more cohesive message throughout the year and points to a way forward for full-service agencies. Ironically, the reasons why specialists mushroomed in the industry in the first place — simplicity and cost controls — are now leading the movement toward their abdication.