Agencies are falling behind on the innovation scale, with brands being the ones to bring ideas to the table, not the other way round. At least, that’s the view of marketing veteran and founder of presentation helper Zeetings, Tony Surtees.
“I think the reality is most of the innovation has been client driven rather than agency driven,” he said. For him, it’s an opportunity for agencies to jump on in there and act as thought-leaders.
In response to whether agencies are being as innovative as they can be, the response was a flat “no”.
“The practical reality for the commercial model for an ad agency is increasingly under more and more pressure,” he said.
“And so it’s a simple, practical reality that most people who are involved in the agency business are highly reactive, rather than innovative and proactive, because they operate on thinner margins, and a lot of the investment that otherwise people would take from an agency perspective, can tend to be seen as being quite risky.
“Agencies have to understand that their clients facing disruption are looking for ideas they can trial and fit into new business models,” he continued.
“And it’s not the agency’s responsibilities to have to come up with any of this, but it is probably an opportunity for them to actually have greater visibility into where these disruptive businesses are coming from.”
There’s a large start-up culture in Australia, he added, which is reactive to the changing landscape and developing innovative solutions. However, he said it’s the brands trawling through these start-ups looking for partnerships, not agencies.
He believes agencies need to make sure they’re understanding what exactly innovation is.
“You look for big trends and you see, when you add the trends together, what’s missing,” he said.
Technology is both enabling and hindering the issue of innovation as well, as while new bits of tech can bring about new ideas for innovative products, agencies need to recognise what is actually solving a customer problem for a client.
Further limiting the innovation is that agencies are confusing innovation for just being reactive.
While the pair do go hand – you can’t innovate without it being a reaction to something – Surtees agreed agencies are reacting to areas like product launches and other innovative things by developing similar responses, and confusing them with innovation.
However, that’s not to say no agencies are innovating. Surtees points to Publicis Groupe and ZenithOptimedia and their recent launch of innovations agency Drugstore.
The aim of the agency was to bring innovation and technology and ideas to the clients of ZenithOptimedia and Publicis.
“That is clearly, I think, a great step in the right direction.”