Everybody’s looking for the agency of the future in 2019 – but are they looking in the right place?

Adweek’s most read article of 2018 (so far) is Rei Inamoto’s design for a new kind of agency, one that clients want and actually find useful. The former CCO of AKQA, now running his own innovation company Inamoto & Co, says it all needs to be simpler, with fewer layers, employ experienced people on terms that suit them and pursue tangible long term results for clients rather than the transient delight of awards.

Things have come to a pretty pass when a massive global industry (ad agencies in all their various guises) seems genuinely worried that such a vast superstructure is, essentially, serving no-one.

But that’s where clients and agencies found themselves now, at the end of a year that’s venerable JWT merged into Wunderman (also pretty venerable but once a direct marketing company – below the salt) and Y&R into a lesser known version of Wunderman, VML.

Such dramatic moves leave WPP, still the biggest of the ad holding companies, with a plethora of brands that may still bemuse clients. Now that WPP has banned digital alongside horizontality, it still has five big creative networks: AKQA, Grey, Ogilvy, VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson. Plus lots of other smaller but notable players like David, one of the keys to its win of VW’s North America creative.

So changing the structure of ad holding groups is a still a work in progress.

A quicker way to move forward is to do what you do better. Wieden+Kennedy, for long a minnow (a desirable one, of course) in comparison to the seemingly all-conquering WPP, Omnicom and Publicis, is now hoovering up big projects from big clients (latterly part of Ford creative) by being a sparky, creative ad agency, albeit one that seems to have mastered the arts of digital design (digital creative is essentially a design business) and, in some cases, media planning and buying.

Sir Martin Sorrell’s S4 Capital is also trying to assemble a leaner, more transparent structure (not a word hitherto applied to SMS) and, no doubt, James Murphy and David Golding’s as yet unnamed new agency will try the same.

Which is pretty much an old-fashioned ad agency before they tried to become something else. Is it back to the future in 2019? It might be.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.