Hack to the Future.

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Hack to the FutureLast week in this space I published a post called “The Full Service Publisher,” in which I speculated that media companies were stepping into the full-service void created by decades of ad agency fragmentation and bureaucratic shuffling.   While I still see this as a hard trend, I was forwarded Mike Drexler’s excellent post from Media Village which might come under the heading “…not so fast!”

Drexler describes McDonald’s recent insistence that Omnicom create the equivalent of a full service agency to handle its business going forward.   It’s tempting to speculate – as Drexler does – that this “may be a snapshot of the future as more clients reexamine their business requirements in a complex and fast changing digital environment.”  Or not.

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I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that it’s highly unlikely.  Here, in my humble opinion, is why:

  1. Like the best-selling book says, show me the incentives and I’ll show you the behavior.  The holding companies are incented to keep media buying and planning separate from other services because it’s probably the most profitable stand-alone business they have. Unless the climate continues to sour and margins get way smaller, leadership won’t act against their own financial interest.  People just don’t.
  2. The Lost Generation. Even if agency leadership was highly motivated to put the pieces back together, agency services have been siloed for so long that there’s just about no one left who remembers how integration is supposed to work.  See how many people in marketing today remember Jay Chiat, Bill Bernbach or Jerry Della Femina.  The code is lost, I fear.
  3. The Talent Vacuum. Every few months we focus on a new crop of hyper-talented agency leaders and anoint them as the saviors of the practice.  And every few months, 8 of every 10 leave; they move to the client side, they join media companies, and increasingly they throw in with platforms and social powers.  Re-animating the golden age of full-service agencies is a big job that calls for the best business thinkers on the planet.  Do agencies have the cachet – or cash – to attract and retain that talent?

Welcome to the dawn of the full service marketing age, which agencies may just sleep through.

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