The playing field is evening out among digital agencies. What each agency can produce is becoming increasingly similar because of universal access to technology, which I believe is leading to a lack of differentiation and, ultimately, stale results for clients. Most conversations about the future tend to focus on the types of tech platforms that agencies need to build or buy or the ideal size of an agency.
I believe digital agencies need to rethink their approach to find a balance of technology, creativity and strategy. In my 12 years as a co-CEO, I’ve learned that in order to stand out within a saturated market, agencies must evolve to become not only agencies but also consultancies, system integrators and digital product creators in order to offer a more well-rounded strategy. The agency of the future will likely need a technology-driven mindset that's grounded in innovation. I believe they’ll need to be agile, led by strategy and rooted in data. Agencies should reassess what it means to be a creative digital partner. I believe the agency of the future will need to deliver strategies and results rooted in practical innovation, and to do so, they should foster strong talent focused on intrapreneurship and diverse thought. Agencies that harness the power of their people and build integrated teams will likely be better equipped to deliver more creative results and emerge as true agencies of the future.
Technology Conformity Cannot Rule Creativity — People Do
I believe all companies, regardless of their industry, must reinvent themselves and adopt a technology-focused business approach. From healthcare to financial services to manufacturing, all industries are being disrupted by new breakthroughs in technology, design and innovation. However, agencies should also consider adopting this mindset to help clients become digital disruptors in their industries.
The keys to utilizing new technology include practical innovation and integrated teams. By integrating expert teams of designers, developers and strategists, agencies can do something that technology can’t: grasp what motivates people and how to design experiences that empower them to take action. Integrated teams usually look at projects from a comprehensive perspective and, by sharing knowledge, can work together to harness the functional tech that creates impactful results.
Because this type of creativity grows from the inside out, I believe it’s crucial to encourage agency employees to lead with creativity driven by intrapreneurship and diversity of thought.
Driving Agency Creativity Through Intrapreneurship
Agency structure typically has defined teams, with each individual's career path mapped out. This can place employees in a box, making it hard for them to pursue ideas and experiences beyond their roles. I believe that agencies of the future will need to foster individual creativity to drive fresh strategies, which can happen when leaders encourage employees to find their passions.
By cultivating a people-first culture that celebrates intrapreneurship, agencies can drive employee engagement. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, but the key is understanding that a career path is not only vertical but also horizontal. By looking at an individual’s interests and helping them grow in experience, agencies can evolve by fostering internal talent.
If a designer is focused on healthcare clients but has a passion for charity work, encourage them to meet with co-workers focused on nonprofit clients, or give them the tools to bring charity work into the agency. Asking where they see themselves growing and what they’re passionate about outside of work is a simple way to let them know that not only are they valued but also that they have the flexibility to get more involved and bring big client ideas to the table.
Establishing core fundamentals through training, professional development and coaching can take agency intrapreneurship to the next level. Once employees know that they're set up for long-term success, they’ll likely be motivated to accelerate their own growth and drive creative solutions to help clients and the agency succeed.
Creating An Agency Of Challengers Through Diversity And Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion can be the secret sauce for agencies to deliver unique digital strategies. Initiatives like Salesforce, whom we're a partner with, spending over $6 million to close its pay gaps based on gender, race and ethnicity are an example of a path to drive real change in the industry. Agencies of the future may need to do even more. Diversity initiatives don't have to come from the top down. Creating a dedicated diversity team can allow people across the agency to feel comfortable expressing what initiatives matter most to them and ensure that the efforts are authentic.
Implementing meaningful changes, like offering feminine products in the bathrooms and creating comfortable spaces for employees with chronic migraines, can play a huge part in creating a diverse and inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable. Inclusion means having an equal voice at the table, which starts with accessibility.
At my company, for example, my co-CEO/co-founder and I ensure that everyone’s voice is heard by hosting weekly fireside chats with different levels of employees, as well as one-on-one onboarding processes. This allows us to encourage individuals to be challengers and to offer up ideas using their different communication styles and points of view.
By fostering diversity and inclusion, agencies can shift to recognize every voice and create a culture of diverse thought, which can benefit clients by delivering innovative solutions through new perspectives.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Will the agency of the future be driven by creatives? Eliminate hierarchy? There’s no defined path — and that’s okay. There’s no set structure because the agency of the future likely won't be a cookie-cutter agency. Instead, surviving the agency apocalypse may require leaders to:
• Put practical innovation at the forefront of client work
• Create a sense of intrapreneurship among employees
• Encourage employees to challenge the status quo
• Foster a culture that's inclusive and celebrates diversity
I believe the agencies that survive will be those that look to employees to create their personas and to be thinkers, doers and creators. Once agencies reestablish their personas and capabilities from the inside out, that’s when we’ll see the true agencies of the future emerge.