Tsar Wars – the Empire fights back


I wrote a detailed article back in March of this year that followed up on a lecture I delivered to a mix of very senior directors and relatively new digital recruits at one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. My theme was the future of digital marketing. The learning outcome was that clients will soon be in a position to cut agencies out of the loop almost completely. As you can imagine, it got a mixed reception: strangely positive with a tinge of fear and understandable denial. I wasn’t being contentious for the sake of it. I see the role of the agency being reduced to one focused developing strategic content that activates the brand in the consumers’ collective consciousness. Thereafter, the customer preference, conversion and retention journey is controlled in-house using automated content development and customer contact platforms that will service every point of the customer journey with a degree of optimisation at the millisecond level.

So why revisit the subject so soon?

Since then I have been looking at technology and work processes that will help shift planning and delivery from a once-in-a-while event to a millisecond-by-millisecond business. No two moments will be the same. No two outcomes will be the same. As a result, things will happen too fast for the old ways of working to keep up. No more slow-mo briefings, huddles, presentations, reports, reviews, creative, production, analytics and evaluation meetings with the agency. In place of this outmoded way of working… an instant decision based on a potentially infinite number of factors that determine precisely what to say and how to say it to the customer in the moment. A split-second either side of that moment and the message might be completely different. I am talking about extreme automated content and context marketing. So too are the senior professionals on my postgraduate courses at the IDM. They are taking the toughest digital marketing course in the business because they want complete control of their runaway digital marketing strategy, tactics, budgets and agency relationships. They are exploring ideas and life without, as thy see it, the restraint of working with an agency and it’s vested and siloed interests.

However, Darth and his minions will not go quietly.

We are in the foothills of the revolution, but in time it will completely change the face of marketing. With conglomerate agencies increasingly focused on serving the needs of shareholders rather than clients, their fate seems sealed, but they will not go down without a fight and that is the purpose of this article. Since that talk, I have delivered the same message to other professionals and at one of them, one of the most senior directors at a global agency approached me after the talk and said it was one of the most thought-provoking talks he had heard in a long time but it that it would never happen. His reason was that the men in charge of the agency world would, and one in particular, I quote, “Will never allow it to happen.” As he put it, “We control the world’s advertising budgets and the way it works now is too profitable to allow clients to take control back.”

The neck of these guys.

So are we to continue lining the pockets of the rich and famous control freaks or are we ready to take personal control and responsibility at the most granular level? Are we ready to set ourselves and our businesses free from the tyranny of the self-interested agency relationship? Are we ready to serve the needs of the customers more efficiently than ever before? Are we ready to make our budgets go further than we ever thought possible? The desire is here in the classroom and in the hearts and minds of the next generation of senior digital marketers. The technology is here and is developing at an exponential rate. All we need to do is believe and take action. I will be developing further updates in this theme soon.