An advertising agency offering that is diverse, creatively inspired and seamless.

Some interesting thoughts from BCM's Phil McDonald, around how holding companies have divested too much. Phil is right in stating that agencies need to stop jumping at shadows trying to reinvent themselves and instead focus on being the best possible versions of themselves. 

McDonald left VMLY&R in April last year in favour of the Brisbane independent agency, BCM. Now he is working to position BCM’s forward looking, integrated offer as a competitively superior one.  He says having the 'real' integrated capability in a tailored offering to clients is the key. The resource doesn’t have to be  global or massively deep, it just has to be diverse, creatively inspired and seamless. Phil notes that the old benefits of media volume and scale have also decreased given today’s media fragmentation, so that provides more opportunity for growth. 

His move to a full-service independent agency comes as companies and large holding groups divest much of their creative and production capabilities. In March 2018, WPP pulled production and design capabilities out of main agencies, Ogilvy, JWT, Y&R and WhiteGrey, repositioning them within the WPP group instead.

McDonald said his move came at the right time as global networks scrabble in the wake of divesting too much, too quickly. “Legacy global networks have not been left with very much. They’ve given away a lot of their specialist skill sets to bolster other specialist brands within the portfolio. You’re now seeing that toothpaste get stuffed back in the tube,” he said.

This fragmentation of agency capabilities, in an attempt to specialise, has been seen by independent agencies as a rogue move, as it is clear that clients prefer a singular vehicle with media, production, digital and data all under the one roof.

As Phill points out, “they’ll have a search company and a digital marketing agency and a media planning and buying agency and a creative agency; I think clients are now realising that they don’t need all that.”

Instead, he has found that a cohesive agency, formed around the concept of doubling down on the skill sets you are in possession of before farming them out, os a much better solution for clients. “We jump at shadows trying to reinvent when actually what we really should be doing is being the best possible versions of ourselves first. Some really good independent agencies have gone back and stuck to their knitting and said ‘we’re just going to do great work and we’re going to produce it beautifully’ and they’ve done really well out of it,” McDonald says. Although “agencies like BDBO globally, and DDB to a lesser degree globally, have done really well just sticking to their knitting.”

McDonald’s pivot to a smaller outfit has been attributed to the across-board changes at WPP, most notably the lack of agility large holding groups tend to possess. “It’s been more difficult sitting in a big creative agency. Independent agencies seem to be able to cut the cord accordingly and a lot quicker,” he said. “Big network agencies have struggled to change. They’ve had to keep delivering against outdated KPIs and haven’t had the financial permission to be able to change themselves quick enough.”

As for the future, Phil doesn’t believe the big agency players will still be reigning supreme. Instead the BCM partner suggests that we may see a new dawn of full-service creative advertising agency with the capabilities of offering clients an aligned and cohesive package.
“I don’t think you’re going to end up with the massive creative agencies or media agencies anymore. You’re going to end up with smaller, better, more quality offerings for clients, they’re the ones that will survive,” he said.

If we look back it wasn’t that long ago when independent agencies were producing some of the best, most innovative and most recognised work out of this country on a regular basis. The sort of work that made people jealous. Work that pushes you to be better, work that positively impacts pop culture, work that works. That is the opportunity for independent agencies once again.

The state of the creative output at the moment from Australian multinational agencies is uncomfortably low. The work is too often poor, clients and agencies alike feel and sound like they’re lacking confidence and, of course, the complexity of the environment doesn’t make it easier either.

The Australian award wins at Cannes and other key shows around the world over the last few years have been pleasing. We all take pride when our country does well. And when our country does well, we’re all being pushed to raise our standards to compete.

But if you dig a bit deeper into Australia’s award wins in the last few years, the work that’s winning has tended to be tactical, tech-led or pro-bono - bar one or two great exceptions. But we can’t stop there and accept that as the norm. It should worry us all that our industry’s most celebrated work at the moment isn’t for big brands, with big business challenges. Great work needs to work. And great agencies need to do their best work on their biggest clients, consistently.

We can’t sit back in ignorance about the issues. We have some very robust data to back the hypothesis up. Peter Field’s Creative Effectiveness seminars in Sydney and Melbourne recently demonstrated how the creativity multiplier has halved. The ratio went from 12:1 to 6:1 in four years, against a comprehensive base of very effective work globally. Because too much of our best creative work is not long-term brand building by design, hence the impact of creativity on effectiveness is diminishing. 

We live in an era where art and science genuinely connect, where smart data can make our work better, more useful and more human. The definition of modern creativity is changing right in front of our eyes at a staggering pace and that presents hugely exciting opportunities for agencies and marketers alike. 

The need to be distinctive and interesting is now more important than ever. Independent agencies are ideally placed to encourage their teams and their client partners to seek stronger, smarter and longer lasting ideas and creative platforms. And that's just what we're doing at HERO.