There’s a lot of talk these days about the death of the agency of record model. Mondelez, Fiat Chrysler, Best Buy, Frito-Lay – they’ve all gained media attention for ditching their agencies of record and replacing them with a ‘best in breed’ team of niche agencies curated for their specialties and not as a one-stop shop. As Mondelez SVP of marketing Dana Anderson wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “digital just didn’t make one new channel – it created thousands of new mediums. It is just not possible for one agency to be expert in all these areas.”
Meanwhile ad industry pundits have wasted no time in taking sides: AOR is a dying model! Wait, no it’s not! I’ll leave the debate about if and when the AOR model will or won’t disappear to others because either way it’s clear that the industry is changing and along with it so is the agency-client relationship.
The trend has been slow to catch on over this side of the pond. While New Zealand’s national broadcaster TVNZ ditched its agency of record, other brands don’t seem to have followed suit. And I can’t think of any big Australian brands that have done so.
That’s sad really, because it’s a huge missed opportunity. Kiwis and Australians (but especially Kiwis) like to think of themselves as upstarts who, with a little ingenuity, punch well above their weight on the world stage. That’s exactly the kind of thinking that would do well without the shackles of the AOR. It’s a model that just hasn’t evolved in step with society and the technological, distributed, and digital trends that are driving our business today. It ties brands to the slow moving behemoths of holding companies so concerned about next quarter’s profits they would rather keep doing the same thing than push the envelope, regardless of how much it might be in their client’s interests to do so. Meanwhile smart brands disrupt the status quo, aided by the agile-thinking of nimble independent agencies.
Detractors of the roster approach say AORs protect the continuity of the brand vision. I disagree. The onus for the brand vision and its continuity goes back to the brand essence. Our job as agencies that work with challenger brands, isn’t to take the brand essence and throw it out the window, it’s to take that essence, shake it up – even reboot it – and then do something attention-grabbing with it.
Not every brand has a high tolerance for risk, and that’s fine: working with niche or boutique agencies doesn’t need to be risky. It’s a great way to test the water with new ideas and approaches, but that testing should be done with agencies that already have a history and a proven record of some kind. At Hunter, we often won’t pitch new clients – we’ll tell them to take a percentage of their overall budget and give us a smaller project to see what we can do. It’s a low-risk opportunity for the client to get some fresh thinking, and it’s a great opening for the agency towards a potentially long and fruitful partnership.
If a brand wants to be a challenger in its market and rattle the cage of convention, what better way to do it than by enlisting the help of agencies that already exist outside the status quo? No one ever disrupted the status quo by doing the same old, same old, that’s for sure.
Simon Hakim is CEO at Hunter.