The Agency is Dead. Long Live the Agency!

An agency, in the oldest commercial form of the word, is a company that takes action on behalf of another company. In the marketing world, it's a company that provides marketing, branding, and/or design products. It's to be distinguished from consulting companies that provide services. An agency, then, is supposed to be an extension of a company. It starts with a company's goals and then acts as an extension of that company to provide products that support those goals. The agency in this form has been around some 50 years or so. And the current question is "Does this approach make sense anymore?" On the one hand, why not? An agency in the broad sense is just a vendor, just a provider of needed services. How could this ever be obsolete? But the agency, in its truest form, has a certain structure. Put simply, it sets up the agency as an adversary of the client. The client is an "account" to be managed. More and more revenue has to be extracted from the client. And, since an agency is strictly execution-focused and narrowly-competent, it's in the agency's interest to continually sell, as much as possible, whatever it is that the agency offers. This approach leads to the agency inevitably looking out for its own interests at the expense (literally!) of its client's. I think this means two things. 1. We can learn a lot from consulting companies. They have a much "higher" relationship, one where particular executions don't yet matter. In this way, they can discuss issues at the client's level instead of their own. Of course, their downfall is that they are over-general and usually know nothing about execution, tending instead to generate report after report. 2. We need to be sure to have a good grasp of strategy and a broader-base of skills. While many agencies are seeking to specialize in certain execution media (Web, print, etc.), I think this is a mistake. The more execution-focused agencies are, the more they tend to recommend bad solutions to their clients just because the agency needs work in that area. The way to combat this is to adopt a broad base of execution that prevents bias towards any particular area. Oh, certainly agencies will never go away. They (we) just need to change.