Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Agency of the Future!

Or at least, the agency of the next few years.

I'm not silly enought to pretend I know what the future is all about. If there's one thing that we should all learn from the last 20 years, it's that the next 20 years will bring changes none of us can predict.

I am pretty confident that the agency as a "manufacturer of units of advertising" business model is not going to continue to work indefinitely. Consumers aren't going to stand for it. We are now purchasing an enormous amount of media, at least partially in an attempt to avoid advertising. We pay big cable bills to get commercial-free networks. We buy music to put on our i-Pods so we don't have to listen to the radio. We use RSS feeds to limit the amount of surfing we have to do to get the news stories we want. We're even buying hardware like DVRs to make it easier for us to skip the ads.

So audiences are telling us that they don't want more advertising in the middle of their content. And that spells the end of the advertising units model, sooner rather than later.

But as far as I can tell, people still like a good story.We're still buying books, going to movies, listening to great storytellers. We like stories. And therein lies the opportunity for agencies in the future. Agencies tell stories, and we tend to tell them better than a lot of people. We find ways to make them more interesting, more engaging, more informative.

Good agencies will turn their creative focus to telling the client's story in whatever mode will be most effective. Once in a while it will still be "old-fashioned advertising" (after all, more than 20 million people still tune in every week to watch Grey's Anatomy; it's not easy to aggregate that kind of an audience). But just as often the storytelling will happen via web sites, or events, or street teams, or branded entertainment, or downloadable applications, or books, or any of a hundred other ways that haven't even been dreamed up yet.

Storytelling. Perhaps the oldest form of communication known to man. And the creative backbone of the evolving agency.

Even the best storytellers need to find an audience. So next time we'll talk about bridge-building.

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