By Devon MacDonald, President, Cairns Oneil
A shift has happened in the world, culture, and industry. Brands, agencies, and people are craving independence. A signal of this shift came from an innocuous act of what could be called civil disobedience.
Our movement, socialization and access to the world changed with the pandemic. We went from all access to zero. With that came empty offices, stores, and roads. Three people from Toronto saw it differently. They saw the empty highways as a chance to express their freedom and ride the highway on skateboards. It was beautiful.
People are expressing freedom in their career by making changes. From marketing to finance. From finance to farming. No industry has escaped the Great Resignation. People realized that working from home brought them freedom. The freedom of time and a release from the in-stone routine that many of their careers and work cultures brought them.
That rigidness is in part what they are resigning from. The companies and agencies that provide freedom in their organization can provide a new independent structure for employees to build into their lives, not have their work build their lives. In Ontario, the ‘right to disconnect’ law recognizes that there was no balance in work and life and that needed to change. Hybrid work arrangements, respecting boundaries and remote team supports are what will support our people, and ultimately clients, best.
In media, leading brands want to work with agency partners who are independent in thinking. Not beholden to partner purchase deals or reporting out of the county. They want an independent structure to keep decisions, talent, and work products in Canada. Brands want access to senior thought leaders who can not only guide them but work with them on their business. That is the beauty of the independent agency model.
In sourcing media agencies, brands are recognizing the pitfalls of rigid cost templates and reverse bidding of placements. This lowest cost wins approach really means that no one wins. Brands are realizing that in most cases low-cost media translates to low performance of their investment. Methods like the Qualification-Based Selection agency search initiative from the ICA shows brands how to better choose an agency partner on fit and fairness versus pricing and pitch work.
Brands are expressing independence in several aspects. They are adapting quickly to culture and ensuring that their values and behaviours reflect those of their consumers. They are open to listening and making changes. They are being flexible in their choices and application of the brand in society.
In media and in platform, brands are looking more at in-house solutions. Developing talent and maintaining expertise long term is a major challenge but building independent teams to manage their own data and solutions will continue to be a priority. Agencies that embrace this and partner in strategy, planning and execution across media, creative, and technology with new ways of working will see long term success of their client relationships and overall offering.
For brands and their creative agency partners they are asking new questions and choosing new solutions. The dominance of independent creative agencies at the recent Strategy Agency of the Year Awards is well established. Creatives who want to work independently are choosing the structures and environments that allow them to best express themselves and are producing incredible work.
There is no shortage of incredible teams and talents within global agencies. They are often however restrained by global assets and limited local budgets that are further burdened with planning restrictions. The great work that comes from them often happens when those teams and talent get to act independently of those restraints.
Our society overall is expressing itself in a way like never before. Having everyone connected at all times brought much needed and long overdue focus to issues dramatically impacting large numbers of marginalized groups in Canada, and around the world. The independence of thought and freedom to share allowed issues to be heard and supported.
The old structures of work and time did not allow for these issues to be heard by all and given the attention they deserve. Its critical too that these efforts to not be wasted and to not just provide lip service but real support through action, like signing the People of Colour in Advertising and Marketing (POCAM) call for equity, and completing the tasks.
The “agency model is broken” chat is a broken record. It’s exciting to see the shift happening and the change that it is bringing a burdened work force and industry. Frankly it’s about time.
Cairns Oneil is a member of the Institute of Communication Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.