Today’s agencies are albums in an iTunes world

I love the song Strawberry Letter 23 by the Brothers Johnson but I had to buy the whole album to get it

I love the song Strawberry Letter 23 by the Brothers Johnson but I had to buy the whole album to get it

Maybe the answer to the agency problem isn’t an agency.  At least, not in the way we’ve always thought about them.

Agencies today are like albums in an iTunes world.   But the talent and technology does exist to change the paradigm so clients get what they want more efficiently and cost-effectively.

On an album there were usually a few songs you really liked.  But to hear them, you had to buy the whole album.  You bought a lot of tracks you didn’t want so you could hear your favorites.

Now, of course, you just buy the songs you want.

And, you pay only ninety-nine cents for them, not nine bucks for the album.  You get more of what you want for less.  The record business, on the other hand, gets beaten to death.

Clients today need and want more songs but are kind of stuck buying albums.

Imagine being a client today.  You need:  tv, print, radio, out-of-home, online banners, paid search, organic search, mobile apps, mobile banners, mobile search, mobile text, a Facebook page, Twitter feeds, and a LinkedIn profile, not to mention qr codes, branded content, in-game advertising, product placement and, now that your MySpace page doesn’t matter and your boss gave up on a viral YouTube video, you also need a location-based check-in program and, for now at least, a Groupon deal.

As a client, where do you go for all that?

To agencies.  And not just one or two of them.

And what, exactly do you get at each agency?  Well, there’s the receptionist, the CEO, the CFO, the bookkeeper, the lawyer, the CMO, the account guy, the senior account guy, the intern, the strategist, the project manager, the planner, the comms channel guy, and, thankfully, some creatives , developers and designers who come up with ideas and make something for you to use.

You want a TV ad?  Buy the ad agency album. Mobile app?  That’s on a different album.  How about search?  Different album.

That’s a lot of albums.  A lot of receptionists and bookkeepers and account guys and senior account guys and CEOs and CMOs and strategists you have to buy just to get the actual products and services you want.

As a client, wouldn’t it be nice to go to one place and get everything you want from one place?

Wait, I think I hear [fill in name of ad agency holding company CEO]:  “We have everything you need in our portfolio of two thousand three hundred and forty-four companies, and we will provide you with a fully-integrated team of world-class talent in every possible discipline led by a single point of contact who can manage these resources even though they reside in sixteen different profit centers and four countries.”

No need to waste space here detailing the hideousness of this fantasy.  Google “Enfatico.”

The people who actually produce the things that clients need are like songs.  And, for the past 100 years, these people have worked mostly at agencies.  They’ve been packaged in agency vinyl.

Right now, there is no iTunes for marketing and advertising solutions.

But, there could be.  All you need are talented people un-tethered from agency anchors, and the right way to connect them with client needs and projects.

As for the former – the independent talent?  That inventory’s growing every day.  If you’re great at what you do and can make a good living enriching yourself and your  own life rather than adding another million or two to [fill in name of ad agency holding company CEO again], then guess what?

The second part — creating the right way to connect these folks with client needs and projects — is not as fully formed.

Emphasis on the right way.

The genius of iTunes wasn’t the uncoupling of songs from albums and making them available as singles on an mp3 player.  Kazaa and a host of others beat Apple to that by a few years.  They also made us part with the better part of too many nights and some portion of our hard drives, thanks to a brutal user experience and rampant viruses.

Apple made it clean, easy and legal.  They secured the delivery.

For the new agency model (environment? operating system?) to work, clients will need their form of secure delivery, too.

Specifically, they will need strategic, reliable and cohesive teams.

Maybe the agency of the future will be more like a producer or talent manager who provides clients with just the right, and right amount of, talent, and guarantees effective delivery.  They’ll do this by dealing with a lot of contracts and admin and coordination you’ll never see – just like iTunes gets you the songs you want, never you mind how they make it happen.

Impossible?  When was the last time you bought a CD…

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