Recently Ad Age published an op-ed titled “How Agencies Must Transform for a New Generation of Clients: The Client of the Future Will Face Challenges Around Speed and Agility.” The author, Chris Johns of British consumer digital agency Forever Beta, was blunt and powerful in his view on how agencies must function today. He made a strong argument for dumping the old model of a large, global network of holding company agencies and replacing it with a new generation of leaner, adaptive agencies. He also described the type of futuristic client that will embrace this shift:

  • “ … if you’re a commercial entity rewarded for taking your time and putting more resources than necessary into a project, that’s exactly what you’re going to do.”
  • “A new generation of client-side marketers know that you don’t need 180 offices around the world and a 50-person account team to feel confident anymore.”
  • “The client of the future will face challenges around speed and agility, not scale and uniformity, and will demand an agency that is custom-built for today’s world — a leaner, more agile strategic and creative consultancy with a collective of multi-skilled experts to support it in solving brand and business challenges .”

I encourage you to read the whole piece — it’s a clarion call to all marketers to see the power and necessity of the sea change at work.

And while Johns didn’t mention specific industries, it’s phenomenally applicable to pharma, where words like “efficiencies” and “transformation” haven’t left the leadership agenda since Intouch began back in 1999.

Our industry continues to fight to learn how to do more, better, with less. We must all become sharper every year with regard to cost, time, and — most of all — the strength of our results. It’s a hell of a challenge, but it’s what pushes us every day.

And we see increasing evidence of the continuing changes, too. Today, doctors are tired of the DTC drug ads that blew up budgets in the 1990s, calling for their legality to be reversed. With changes that big even being discussed, the idea of “business as usual” is off the table.

As Johns points out: “Confidence in the future will come through responsive teams and models, designed to adapt and spring for a variety of challenges, utilizing the incredible wealth of knowledge and technology at its fingertips to produce solutions beyond just marketing.”

No longer do marketing directors have the safety of guaranteed budgets, and in a digital world, no longer does a huge-scale operation guarantee success.

We haven’t lived in a Mad Men world for generations — and we can’t afford to think we might. No longer do marketing directors have the safety of guaranteed budgets, and in a digital world, no longer does a huge-scale operation guarantee success.

Johns writes, “ … a global infrastructure designed around an outdated model is becoming more of a hindrance than an asset.” Clients are next generation and “ … grew up hacking the system, collaborating with people around the world to solve challenges, Googling ‘how-to’ for everything, and generally finding solutions more efficiently and effectively.”

Clients like that — like ours — expect agencies to deliver the same back to them, and more, every day. They deserve it.

To deal with this collision of past vs. present and future, last year I suggested clients adopt a “rogue-agency roster.” But perhaps rogue is the new mainstream.

Safety doesn’t reside in tradition, and strength isn’t always in numbers. As Johns says, “ … increasingly, doing things the way you’ve always done them could be the highest-risk strategy of all.”

If you find this prospect frightening, buckle up. Because it’s true everywhere, and nowhere moreso than pharma.

But if you find it exciting — well, come sit by us.