Wed, 23 Apr 2014 17:06:00 GMT
Everything, everywhere, everywhen. Advertising industry (are we still calling it advertising? I just don’t even know anymore. Hell, I’ve got to call it something) is changing. The neat little flow chart of media agencies, creative agencies, digital shops, production companies and post houses is becoming less and less relevant. Agency networks are building up internal post and production networks, production companies and post houses are working directly with clients and digital companies are building products while eyeing up TV and brand strategy. Everyone is piling into the creative scrum with beefier offerings while the puny specialists sit on the bench. It’s nothing particularly new, of course, but our recent trip to New York brought things into sharp relief. The rest of the world might pussyfoot around, but in New York if something’s happening then it’s happening.
For the past two weeks I’ve been pounding the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, meeting up with agencies and production companies, big and small. The one thing that really struck me – aside from a helpfulness and energy that felt positively foreign to my irascible British tendencies – was the sheer diversity between agencies and within them. Everyone really is trying to do everything. But, crucially, they’re all trying to achieve that ‘everything’ in a completely different way.
Digital companies that have come from UX or production backgrounds – the Big Spaceships, the Huges, the Firstborns – have morphed into fully fledged agencies combining product design with the sort of strategic nouse usually associated with brand consultancies. The demand for high volume, responsive online content has also meant that film and photography studios are popping up amidst the banks of computers. A visit to Firstborn’s office in the intimidating AT&T building (the sort of building you might expect to find in a Fritz Lang movie) revealed an enormous studio used for everything from green screen shoots to sound recording to parties. Not exactly what I was expecting to find in a Manhattan skyscraper. And outside of New York we’ve spoken to so many digital agencies trying to figure out how to get into TV. Whatever some might say, it ain’t dead yet, it’s just part of a broader package.
There are some agencies shot through with an ‘inventor culture’, places which have managed to balance the traditional demands of TV, print and online while nurturing their inner da Vincis and Doc Browns. Tinkering, experimenting, making. At Deutsch we plunged into a discussion about the endless possible hacks for Raspberry Pi, at kbs+ we were surrounded by the models and prototypes that had emerged from their tech-driven workshop.
What’s more, creative and media seem to have finally gotten over that acrimonious break up and are giving things a second chance. In the past few years media agencies have been setting up their own content creation divisions and it’s becoming more common to see banks of media planners sprout up in creative agencies. Walking around the recently remodelled Wieden+Kennedy NY offices – its perfectly round wooden staircase is a thing of beauty – we noticed a good half a floor devoted to media.
Large networks too are getting in on the act, particularly on the production and post front, establishing internal production agencies. It’s a phenomenon that’s been happening for a while but the task of establishing such a facility and – crucially – bringing your creatives into line so they’ll use the damned thing is a task easier said than done, particularly when working across agencies at such a global scale. While all of the big players are, at first glance, attempting to achieve the same thing, they are approaching it in different ways. There’s WPP’s Hogarth, which is scooping up end-of-the-process stuff like versioning; there’s Publicis’ Prodigious which has set up shop in Paris and is making inroads into the UK and USA by attempting to pool production talent across the agencies. At the flagship Havas Village in New York (12 agencies, including creative, digital and media, under one roof – if that’s not a beacon of the ‘everything everywhere’ movement I don’t know what is) we bumped into Chief Content Officer Vin Farrell. Charged with overseeing every kind of production at the network, his approach has been to focus on talent over volume, bringing in people from the likes of Psyop and R/GA.
On the other side of things, production and post houses seem to be approaching the same goal, but from the opposite direction. I’ve written in the past about post houses working increasingly upstream and directly with clients, establishing their own inhouse creative departments and throwing themselves into R&D. In New York I came across one production studio which has not only branched into creative but even has media buying capabilities. Click 3X has recently launched Click Entertainment, an entertainment branding agency that handles creative, production, post and media. Their argument is that while the big agencies might buy media in bulk, their smaller operation can be more targeted and can ensure that their clients don’t end up being lumbered with unsuitable slots as agencies seek to dump their excess media space. Being a relatively small one-stop-shop, they say, means that everyone inevitably ends up wearing several hats and that turnaround is a lot quicker.
It’s been interesting to see how companies, whatever they call themselves, are slowly gravitating to the same space, but also the varying paths they are taking to achieve the holy grail of proper integration. Speculating about the future of advertising is one of the industry's favourite pastimes (we're doomed! we're not doomed! we're going to run everything in the world! things! storytelling!) and I reckon it's time to join in. for my money - and I am quite prepared to be proven wrong - we might see an ecosystem where companies are divided not by discipline but by size and culture. Increasingly, the differentiating factor between companies operating in the world of advertising and brands isn’t what they do (digital, creative, production) but how they do it.