The future of the marketing agency model – is it truly bleak?

My post earlier today about the growing importance of social media in campaigns was partly the result of a culmination of a number of campaigns I have been working on recently where it is likely to play a key part, but also discussions I have been having with a media planning and buying agency in California. The view presented by my colleague was that media planning and buying and the agency model were effectively now dead – having become commoditized to such an extent that the services of a good media planner and buyer could now be bought on an hourly basis.

Since our conversation a little over a week ago I have been mulling over this comment in some detail. The conclusion I reached surprised even myself. Rather than dead, I believe the agency model is going through a process of evolution or even rebirth.

Advertisers, although I would potentially challenge the use of that term going forward, seek to influence and engage with consumers. This is becoming an increasingly challenging job. Consumers are no longer watching as much TV as they used to and what time they do spend watching shows is now split not between 4,5,or 6+ channels but hundreds. In fact some of this consumption of video media has actually jumped online via Hulu in the US or even the BBC iPlayer here in the UK.

A similar patter is being repeated with the printed written word. Readership figures for newspapers are slumping worldwide as audiences go online seeking richer and broader sources of information. Gone are the days a national newspaper editor wielded ‘Citizen Kane’ like power over its readers. Rather social media and the consensus of the masses are shaping public perception. Why rely on one source of information when you now have access to hundreds, thousands and even millions of different newspaper, news and blog sites globally.

This fragmentation of media consumption is happenning faster to some audiences than others. Indeed it has already occured to some demographic groups Рsimply take a look at tweens and young adults. Some media planners are trying to kid themselves that some demographic audiences are not changing. The statistics rather show the opposite. I recently commented in a post that the fastest growing demographic group on Facebook during 2008 was actually  the 35-49 age group, partly as they attempt to get back in touch with old alumni but also keep in contact with chrildren, nieces and nephews.

The implications for agencies and marketers are considerable. It will no longer be good enough to just understand the media space for your vertical. Rather, you will need to understand the media consumption habits of your audience and what truly engages them. The traditional agency role of media planner and buyer will likely evolve into that of a digital strategist, not seeking to ‘target’ groups of consumers, but establishing sincere dialogue with customers and prospects on a one-to-one basis. Financial searcives marketers take note. The landscape is undergoing a seismic shift. Have you invested in erathquake insurance?

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