The marketing agency landscape isn’t what it used to be—-so you shouldn’t expect future marketing agencies to be anything like their traditional counterparts. Despite this, numerous dinosaurs (holding and marketing companies such as WPP) are up against a series of new-age challenges, and they are having difficulty adapting to them. Brands are shifting to in-house marketing; there is stiff, diverse market competition; digital and inbound marketing is at its apex; and data is the driving force for most (if not all) marketing strategy and execution.


Don’t be fooled–new agencies and small agencies can fall into the same traps that these giants are struggling to crawl out of.


The question at stake for all agencies is this: what should marketing agencies do to adapt, modernize, and compete in the current market?


Yes, future agencies must be nimble, specialized, and agile. However, there is more to this evolution.


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Brands vs. Agencies: Seizing back control


Complex, multi-functional marketing and creative teams were once revered by brands. However, this isn’t the case anymore. Although agencies are home to top talent, their clients want new and different experiences and services. Brands are seizing back control, according to P&G marketing chief, Marc Pritchard.


They no longer rely on agencies for strategy and execution. They want to be more involved in their marketing campaigns, and they are gaining power in the marketplace.


Brands are seizing back control. –Marc Pritchard, CMO at P&G


Image of marketing agency of the future starting


We can see this happen on an economic level. Large holding companies’ share prices are dropping. For example, WPP Group’s share price has dropped 14 percent since the start of 2018. There is also a hiring shift. New wave internet-based companies (like are hiring in-house marketers, rather than agencies.


There is a reason for all of that—-these companies are not focusing on magazine and TV advertisements that require an agency’s media buying power. Instead, they rely on PPC, SMM, and other inbound marketing techniques. These marketing and ad options are very accessible to the everyday marketer. Nevertheless, media purchasing has always been a field that dinosaur agencies specialize in, and continue to work with.


New wave companies aren’t the only brands that are making waves in the agency landscape.


Huge brands, such as Procter & Gamble and Pepsi, are hiring in-house, or outsourcing their advertising creative to smaller firms.


The reality is that companies are cutting out ad and marketing agencies left, right, and center.


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Why and How Brands Are Shaping the Future of Agencies

1. Clients want to be in control of their data and their budgets.


Marketing agencies have had a tendency of controlling all marketing campaign information, budget allocation, and execution in the past. But clients want to regain control of their information, data, and marketing spend. They want to be budget allocation decision-makers. And, they want to be more active with their agency partners.


However, more information and budget control translate to more control over fund allocation. Brands can choose where to inject money in a campaign, or where to drastically cut marketing budgets.


This is happening. Giant holding companies are losing grip on their largest clients.


Some clients are totally reconsidering their marketing budget spend in numerous ways. They are cutting customer-facing marketing spending by reducing marketing volume. In addition, they are reducing agency-produced ad volume.


This translates to less marketing agency output, and a potential shift towards in-house marketing teams.


Marketing agency future liftoff

2. Traditional agencies are rigid and can’t flex with the market or marketing needs.


The traditional marketing agency model of building strategies, pricing, and delivering services to clients is no longer the top priority for some brands.


The digital marketing landscape demands a much more flexible, innovative, and agile marketing approach. This means that agencies ought to be more flexible when servicing their clients.


Clients want marketing strategies that fit with this shifting digital landscape. Antiquated marketing techniques (i.e. outbound TV commercials, etc.) will not suffice. This approach is clunky, time-consuming, and potentially irrelevant by the time it reaches the market. Large and small brands all desire highly targeted marketing campaigns that arrive on a quick timeline. They expect their marketing to run on social channels, the web, and search engines.


A quickened marketing pace encourages clients to ask their agency partners for smaller projects with quicker deadlines. Clunky agencies that have not cut their fat, or that are held back due to their size are unlikely to be able to accommodate their clients’ needs. Brands need to move at the speed of culture, digital tech, and client demand.


Agencies that can’t change with the wind will fail.


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3. Changing relationships and payment structures.


Brands are moving towards more hedged agency relationships.


One study revealed that 42 percent of companies say they are working with three or more agencies to get different marketing campaign jobs done.


Brands want to partner with the most innovative agencies. They’ll hire multiple agencies that can get their marketing innovation down pat. This increases competition between agencies. As clients desire more flexibility and work with more agencies, they’ll ask for smaller projects, rather than large ones. Brands expect that small projects are completed quickly, expertly, and in line with the current cultural and digital trends. Thus, agencies will no longer receive giant annual retainers like they used to.


Nimble agencies who are willing to work with small projects will be selected for partnerships.

4. New wave companies were born out of the internet, and so is their marketing.


New wave companies are inherently digital. Digital marketing is their bread and butter. Harkening back to points one and two, these brands move quickly with culture.


Their advertising and marketing is almost exclusively conducted on digital and social platforms.


Marketing agency future predictions


New wave companies are being born every year. They’re changing digital marketing and the agency demand landscape. Here’s how:


  • They’re taking their marketing efforts in-house.
  • They don’t sell their products in stores.
  • They flourish on highly personal brand-consumer relationships.


This affects the culture of marketing, which influences large brands marketing and advertising efforts.


Few dinosaur agencies can offer the services that these new wave companies need. These brands need data-centric marketing strategies that are nimble, quick, and social media-friendly. They’re in favour of in-house, data-driven marketing options. They may look to niche agencies to help them target their tribe. However, they won’t settle for marketing intuition strategies that lack data-backed decision-making.

The Eight Rules of Becoming an Agency of the Future


How can your agency compete with large agencies, keep up with the changing marketing landscape, and retain clients?


HeyOrca believes that marketing agencies must adopt the eight characteristics below in order to succeed. These are developed from the issues and failures of giant marketing agencies past.


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1. Be small project-friendly.



It’s clear that brands are turning to smaller project contracts with their marketing agency partnerships.


A hefty retainer is stable and attractive, but it’s no longer a pragmatic business model.


There are benefits to working with smaller projects. Project-based work can be highly lucrative. It tends to demand less time and resources than large projects do. This allows you to speed up your funnel and take in more opportunities, which might lead to more growth.



Adapt your business model to be small project-friendly.


You might have to contact a lawyer to develop a new contract, alter your proposal style, develop a new pricing strategy, and reconfigure your teams.


Consider working with freelancers in order to begin the preliminary stages of your business model reconfiguration. Adopting project management software might be a helpful method to streamline your work as well.


Finally, market your agency as a small project-friendly agency. This could give you a huge leg up against your competitors, and it could help you grow your business network.


image of how to becomes a marketing agency future

2. Be specialized.




The all things all people type of general agency used to be desired. However, marketing is becoming more specialized, personalized, and niche.


Consumers want personal experiences with the brands that they love. Generalized marketing campaigns won’t go very far. If you don’t know how to create content for your niche audience then this should be your top priority.




Look for trends in the types of brands that hire you, and the style of marketing that you lean towards or succeed in. Make detailed notes about your successes and your audiences.


The next step is to understand where your strengths lie. Perfect your marketing technique for an audience type.


For example, you might start off as a content marketing agency and become a B2B content marketing agency. Or, you might change from a SMM agency to a SMM and PPC agency for home decor clients. Whatever your niche is, find it and hone in on it.


Once you have a clear picture, you can begin hiring specialized talent that will refine your core capabilities.


Innovative brands that recognize the importance of specialized marketing will quickly see the value that your team brings to the table.

3. Be able to work with other agencies.



You might need to work with other specialized agencies to provide your clients with a comprehensive strategy.


For example, you might recognize that link-building is essential for your client’s campaign, but it’s out of your scope. Rather than fake it, look for a team of experts that you can work with on a consistent basis.



Spend some time researching the agency market for other firms that offer services that complement yours.


Partners should complement your marketing strategy and offer services that fill in the gaps your team can’t fill. They should also work well with your agency. You should be searching for fit.


Develop a tight community of trustworthy marketers by doing your research, attending conventions and events, connecting on social media, and looking for referrals online.


Image of marketing agency adapting to future

4. Be business partners first.



It’s clear that brands want real, transparent relationships with their agency partners.


Gone are the days of opaque and isolating consultant-like agencies. Clients don’t want their partners to hide the inner workings of their marketing campaign from them.


If anything, clients want to be more involved–or at least have the option to be more involved. More brands are hiring in-house marketing teams, which means that your agency might have to work with those teams at the very least.



Move forward with the expectation that your client will want to talk about budget allocation, campaign strategy, and execution. If you assume that your client will want to be involved in your marketing campaign, then you won’t be shocked or unprepared when they start getting involved.


Be a good business partner. Establish a communication protocol and invest in communication tools (such as Slack or Hangouts) that help you keep in touch.


Finally, offer your clients top-notch treatment inside and outside your office. This relationship-nurturing can help you develop a strong bond that keeps your clients coming back. Being easy to reach and open to meet after hours goes a long way.

5. Be data-centric.



Data-driven marketing decisions should be everyone’s highest concern. Despite this, traditional agencies continue to struggle with it.


Even innovative marketing agencies should push for data-centric marketing progress. Targeted social media ads aren’t enough. Marketing trends are quickly moving towards hyper-personalization. If you lack the infrastructure to offer this service, then your clients might hire another agency that does.


The more you focus on data-centric marketing integrations, the more attractive you will be to innovative brands.


Capitalize on a data-driven marketing strategy by making it accessible to your clients. Don’t hide this information from them. They might be able to help you make valuable decisions based on your insights.



You should be constantly thinking about how you can capitalize on data-centric marketing. The best way to stay ahead of the game is by searching for talented marketers who can mine data and integrate it with your creative team.


The reality is that hiring competent data-focused marketers isn’t enough to move the needle. If you want to garner attention from big brands (or be the top agency in your city), then you need to seriously invest in data integration.


You may need to work with a consultant, a specialized agency, or shift your agency’s mission statement. For example, your niche agency might become a niche marketing agency that specializes in personalization and PPC targeting.


6. Be agile and streamlined whenever possible.



Agencies of the future must be able to work on project-based assignments. Working quickly and efficiently must be in your repertoire. The digital landscape is changing–that’s a fact! What is true today in the marketing world won’t be true tomorrow.


Always pay attention to the latest marketing trends. You must be prepared to let go of old ideas or drop existing projects at any moment. These things might not pan out if there is a change in the marketing or cultural landscape.


image of how to become an agency of the future



Listen to the market.


Pay close attention to digital culture and your clients’ customers. Be prepared to react to them and predict any next moves or changes. Follow your audience on social media, subscribe to their newsletters, and set up Google Alerts for important keywords. Interact with the community. It’s easier to understand them when you’re immersed in their lives.


Agile agencies need to be prepared for anything. Develop roadmaps for unique circumstances, such as dropping a project if the tides change, or banging out a quick project when it’s necessary.


Finally, celebrate your flexibility. Small to mid-sized agencies have less red tape, employees, divisions, and teams than large agencies. Cherish and understand your inherent value so you can show your clients what you’re made of.

7. Be willing to let go of some of your power.




Brands are becoming more conservative with their marketing budgets. They’re allocating less money to agencies, and they’re becoming more active in decision making. They also desire more control and ownership over marketing data.


You should be willing to let your clients have access to any marketing data that you mine from campaigns and research. They want to be experts too. Help them own it!



Don’t fixate on giving up your power.


Instead, accept the fact that your relationship will be more like a partnership. Build decision making and information sharing into your partnership road map.


For example, build a marketing operation plan that empowers your client to be an active member in your marketing efforts. Let their participation be up to them.


This may help you stand out against your competitors. You’ll look like an attractive business partner by showing leads that you’re a transparent agency.

8. Be willing to invest in your services.



Client services and experience are a large part of client retention.


Brands want to be more involved in their marketing efforts. So, your agency should be doing everything possible to keep them in the loop with content approvals, communication, and other updates.


image of an agency of the future



Pinpoint your biggest client services pain points and Google them. You can find great software options on websites like G2Crowd. Invest in the software that addresses these pain points. Streamlining and optimizing is always worthy. It saves you time and improves your client experience, which ultimately improves your reputation and speeds up your sales funnel.


Consider using communication tools like Slack or Google hangouts; invest in a CRM that’s designed for small businesses; and find the best social media content approval calendar on the market to get your agency on track.


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How can your agency become a lean, mean, marketing machine?


If you’re going to become an agency of the future, then you need to pay attention to the current marketing industry maladies and understand how you can cure them.


Keeping an ear to the ground is not enough! You must be reactive to the issues that you see.


Making a conscious effort to internalize industry struggles is the best way to provide (or create) solutions.


Here at HeyOrca, we don’t think that the agencies of the future will be the strongest and biggest agencies. We think that the agencies of the future are going to be highly reflexive and adaptive.


The marketing agencies of the future will:


  1. Happily welcome small projects.
  2. Focus on being highly-specialized.
  3. Be able to work with other agencies.
  4. Be business partners first.
  5. Offer data-centred marketing in every respect.
  6. Streamline all workflows to remain agile.
  7. Let go of their power and share it with their clients.
  8. Adopt and invest in software for client experience.


Be a winning agency by constantly moving towards improvement. If you follow the eight rules listed above–and don’t coast on your success–you should be fine!

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