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Is Creativity Dead at Agencies?

December 11, 2015 | By Erin Provey

  • Technology has changed the way agencies operate
  • As a result of this change, they are relying on data, rather than just creativity to drive client campaigns
  • The importance of managing an agency remains paramount despite their switch to a more data-driven approach

Yes.

Kidding! Sort of.

Creativity isn't dead – agencies remain a haven for creative types looking to avoid the starving artist lifestyle. However, the focus on technology and the opportunity to use big data in b-to-b marketing are definitely causing a sea change in terms of the types of people agencies (particularly b-to-b agencies) seek to round out the team.

About 10 years ago, the creative director reigned supreme at agencies and the “Mad Men” mentality was alive and well, with "idea guys" (and gals) rising through the ranks and taking senior roles. This may still be the case in b-to-c, but in b-to-b, marketing technologists, data analysts and UX/UI designers (and their ilk) are rising in number and importance.

In the past, these types of agency contributors were what my former boss might icily refer to as "mushrooms" – people in a dark room in the back with no social skills. Nice, right? Not very. But there was some truth to that – those guys (and they were usually guys at the time – not so anymore, although I'd love to see even more women in the mix) were not client facing. They were the production team – the doers, hidden in the back.

Today, not only are these teams central to the production and execution of creative deliverables, but we more frequently see agency executives with technological and analytical expertise rising through the ranks and acting as the primary face of the agency to the clients – and with good reason.

B-to-b organizations now understand the importance of a data-driven approach with a strong technological underpinning, but they often lack the internal competencies and resources to execute against this reality. Enter the modern agency to save the day – providing data-driven creative services, executed via a modern technological toolset. Creativity isn't dead – it's just more fact-based (vs. whim-based) than ever before, and this is a very good thing.

Now, before you go outsourcing all your marketing to your favorite agency partner, keep this last note of caution in mind:

The primary mistake we see our clients make in (mis)managing their relationships with agencies is the belief that working with an agency is a "set it and forget it" scenario – that the project will manage itself and the agency will magically figure out and internalize the core components of the organization's offering portfolio and go-to-market strategy. The agency may be able to lead the way regarding creative strategy, data strategy and technological execution, but the internal project team in your organization must still own and lead the overall project strategy and ensure 100 percent alignment with business objectives, go-to-market strategy and initiatives in other key areas of the organization (e.g. product, sales). Letting the agency get creative with its interpretations of and assumptions about your business strategy is a surefire way to drive a project into the ground.

Erin Provey

Erin Provey is a Senior Research Director of Corporate and Executive Marketing Strategies at SiriusDecisions. She has more than 10 years of experience in brand strategy, including positioning, identity, public relations, digital strategy, copywriting and account management. Follow Erin on Twitter @erinprovey.
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