When you hear marketing agencies say “content is king,” we don’t mean creative is king. Content’s supremacy has less to do with the creative genius behind it and more to do with the strategy that makes creation worthwhile.
Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Content Marketing 2018 discovered that 89% of high-performing business to business (B2B) companies are highly committed to content marketing. However, while 55% of top performers measured their content’s return on investment (ROI), only 18% of low performers did the same. Businesses now recognize that creative work is only as valuable as the results it delivers.
I’ve had 30 years in the agency world to witness this evolution. In the old days, agencies led new business pitches with creative assets. Clients were excited to see new artistic concepts and ideas. Today’s clients want far less of that. Modern companies expect to see strategy and hard numbers, and agencies that cling to a creative-oriented past could lose business to their strategy-driven competitors.
Can The Old Guard Learn New Tricks?
If your agency has been in business for more than a few years, look around at the people in your office. Your art department likely has a few too many faces, while your writing team may struggle to maintain a full crew.
These staffing challenges are not a coincidence. Agency work used to be more evenly distributed. A writer had about the same amount of work as an art director, so agencies paired up one of each to meet client needs. Today’s companies need two or three writers for every art director because clients need content that drives numbers — and art doesn’t cut it like it used to.
In fact, it’s creative directors who have probably suffered the most. Back in the day, an agency without an artistic creative director was like a ship without a rudder. Now, the few agencies that do employ creative directors tend to promote writers into the top role. No one can afford to ignore the reality that visual art — while still a vital piece of the agency puzzle — doesn’t move the needle like it once did.
Optimal Agency Structure In 2019
New client priorities require equally novel agency structures to match.
• Creative directors of the past may have spent their time managing teams and communicating with clients, but today’s creative directors (where they still exist) not only lead the way but also produce their own share of content at the same time.
• Most agencies, however, have figured out that they don’t need creative directors to thrive. Instead, they identify a few people — usually one writer, one art director and one digital producer — and ask that senior team to produce and lead together. These manager-maker hybrids keep agencies focused on strategy by maintaining a multidisciplinary view on deliverables, with ROI at the forefront.
• A few agency areas have escaped major upheaval: Administrative departments, client services teams and sales groups still perform the same duties, even if digital demands have given those jobs a new coat of paint. For every unchanged department, though, new roles like digital producers and web designers have risen to shake up the tradition.
This new structure reflects the fact that successful agencies today don’t swagger into new client meetings and boast about creativity. In many cases, they don’t bring creative to the table until much later. Strategy dominates the conversation from beginning to end, because clients know that metrics and measurement are essential to their growth and survival.
Learn To Love The New Agency Life
If reading about these changes makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t worry. I know what it’s like when the traditional rules and priorities no longer apply. We didn’t even have a digital team when I started, and now we couldn’t survive without one.
The TV spots and slogans that used to own the agency world no longer rule, but one thing remains unchanged: Businesses continue to look toward agencies for creative solutions. Now, though, they are more interested in the strategies and solutions we provide than the flashy designs we present.
As you fill out your agency’s team, don’t think about the structure that has brought you success in the past. Think about the clients you want to serve and the opportunities on your horizon. What roles will you need to fill to meet those challenges? What will those clients want from you, and how can you organize your company to deliver on those requests?
Maybe you do need a creative director. Maybe you need more writers, more artists or more client services teams to handle the load. Whatever you decide, let the clients of the future — not the standards of the past — guide the way.