If Media Agencies Are To Adapt & Survive The Answer’s In Their People

If Media Agencies Are To Adapt & Survive The Answer’s In Their People
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In this guest post, Louise Romeo (main photo), Starcom’s national head of operations and investment, says the answer to what a media agency might look like in the future is right under our noses – the people already employed at media agencies…

As I sit here with my two-year-old son listening to the soundtrack of Disney’s movie Cars, I can’t help but pay very close attention to the lyrics of the song Life is a Highway – “one day here, and the next day gone”. It makes me wonder if this is where the well-established, legacy business we call a ‘media agency’ will find itself in the not-too-distant future.

Some of you might say this is not a new issue, but the lyrics keep making me question, have we really done enough to drive true digital business transformation, and are we supporting our teams to have the right skills and expertise to enable us to deliver on this?

It’s no surprise that over the last two years the pandemic has really forced us to rethink our agency businesses. A rethink in a number of areas, whether that be around operations, process, technology, automation, structure, product, data, innovation… the list goes on. What do they all have in common? Function.

But while we spend our time focusing on tasks, latest technologies and organisational structure, we often forget to consider – what is the purpose, and how about the people?

These people, ‘our teams’ enable change, and are ultimately the ones driving business transformation for our clients.

Starting with their mindsets, decision making and appetite to upskill, reskill and reimagine, what should we be doing to evolve and establish new ways of working?

In Publicis Sapient CEO, Nigel Vaz’s recent book Digital Business Transformation, he outlines that six out of the seven “blocks, brakes and behaviours” slowing down established businesses, are related to people. Whether that be around having “organisational silos, talent shortages, top-down decision making, short-termism, value and culture related to a proper purpose, or a ‘not invented here’ mentality”.

Vaz shares that over 70 per cent of businesses fail to deliver digital transformation for one of these very reasons. He explains: “Successful digital business transformation requires that you anchor in outcomes. Established businesses are often challenged by knowing what to let go of and what to keep, which is where clarity on business outcomes is crucial. Being able to identify and address the blocks, brakes and behaviours is far easier when viewed through the lens of business outcomes – helping to avoid the trap of attachment to past bad habits, or to check off deliverables and outputs without ever achieving the outcomes.”

This should remind us that our behaviours, and therefore, teams play a critical role in ensuring that we are equipped to navigate change so that we are continuing to progress and develop our sector, and the media agency professionals that drive it forward.

So why the urgency to further progress digital transformation? Within the context of the new world which has been spurred by the pandemic, accelerated developments in technology and data privacy, I believe that 2022 needs to be the year of our people, or we will find ourselves at risk of being “one day here, the next day gone”.

It’s not about continuing to talk about the industry talent shortages, or the lack of individuals with the right skills.

It’s about gearing up and investing in our existing talent, training to support tech competency, and sharing ideas and knowledge in regular forums.

It’s about setting up cross-functional, T-shape structures which drive a high-performance culture where everyone has an appetite to learn, fail and try again.

Finally, and most importantly, it’s about reminding our people to adapt to change day in day out, so it becomes part of their identity.

When I consider that a media agency will likely look very different in five years’ time, I’m proud to know that I am already part of a digitally-transformed business, where we have collectively driven change through an iterative process with all roads leading back to our people.

As they say in Life is a Highway, at times “the road so rough, this I know, I’ll be there when the light comes in, tell ’em we’re survivors”.

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Louise Romeo Starcom

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