For anyone who has been in the media field for long enough, the term agency is used with the same sort of frequency as you would have in throwing out a “good morning”. Every facet of the communication world is populated by agencies and though you hear so many names of agencies there aren’t really that many different types. Or are there?
As a journalist, the agency tpe that I most often interact with is the public relations agency. I’ve always wondered, why would you call yourself a public relations agency when you actually never interact with the ‘public’. The symbiotic relationship that the PR agency has is with the denizens of the media and if you really want to stretch it a bit, with the new age media of the social network. We are the tools in their handy bag, in their quest to reach out to the public. That would make them press relations agencies. So how does it go again – brand to PR agency to media to public? Is there a path in reverse? Perhaps one that involves customer workshops, surveys, mystery shopping etcetra? Yes, there are many return paths, but they all have their own specialised agencies.
In this increasingly fragmented world of super-specialised agencies, we need to also pay homage to the mother of the breed – the advertising agency. It flourishes on the back of a rampantly consumer-driven economy and even manages to make in-roads into fields like government schemes, getting social messages out and publishing your financial reports. The premise here is that an agency has all the skills, talent pool and resources that individual clients and brands cannot raise without building in an unnecessary cost overload. But then, I’ve seen that most brands that really care about their ‘message’ already have the experts and resources to do so onboard. The agency is just the implementor, while helping in the creation too.
Which, brings me back to the title – why use an agency if you have the folk who know what needs to be done already? Why pay them a fee or a commision for jobs that you could get done yourself? The reason I ask this is because, I’m seeing the threshold again – the point at which a challenging economic macro environment is causing managements to question the cost of doing business as usual. If you need to trim costs, would you cut corners by reducing your dependence on an external agency, often cutting them out altogether OR would you start by losing the talent that you have in the company?
The business of automotive communications is a good example – to launch a car, you will need the skills to publicise your car to the broader market. Traditionally that would mean using advertising agencies and traditional media outlets including print, TV, satellite and cable as well as outdoor media like billboards and other places to shout out. But now there is the field of internet based media, social networks, mobile phone interactions and the growing area that is bundled under BTL or below-the-line communications. By the way (BTW) there are specialised agencies to handle these roles. Then let’s not leave out event management, logistics, government interaction, translation and even professional meet-and-greet agencies.
I’ve seen an increasing number of automotive related events being handled by in-house teams, with these teams having to take on the duties that all these disparate agencies normally provide. It’s a good thing to see the level of dedication that a focussed team can bring into this, often with a high degree of professionalism. The danger is when this attitude of making do with what you have at hand translates into cutting corners on the deliverables. And the sad truth of the matter is that sometimes, that happens.
But then, many of my recent interactions with teams that chose to go it solo have also given me a fresh perspective on the entrepreneurship that can be found in many of us. Your message may not be perfect, your path may seem a little bumpy and the final achievement may not be letter perfect the way a mega agency could deliver – but it does the job. And in the process, maybe you’ll find a future career setting up an agency of your own.