Scrolling through LinkedIn, it seems that the tech apocalypse is upon us. From Twitter to Meta, Microsoft to Amazon, the industry is facing a reckoning. In what was once a safe haven of job security, the party seems to be winding down.
I find it all a little surreal.
It was over a decade ago when I toggled over from agency-land to lead various teams across the tech industry. I went from being a brand strategist for clients to being a brand builder on the client side. I quickly rose through the ranks, ultimately serving as the CMO for a player in the DTC space. This was during the halcyon days of tech, when the companies I was part of — YouTube, Spotify, Instagram — seemed poised for nothing less than world domination.
But then I bailed — and I haven’t looked back. I’ve returned to Goodby Silverstein & Partners, where I started my trajectory. One of the first things that agency folks ask me is what I’ve learned on the client side. I hardly know where to begin.
At YouTube I learned that content, including advertising, is liquid — brand messages need to flow seamlessly across media, from a vertical video scroll to a 280 character Tweet. Spotify taught me how to build an internal creative agency so that we no longer had to rely solely on external partners to tell our story. Then at Instagram, I learned about the speed and urgency required to lead marketing teams across a highly matrixed, global organization — and that it’s hard to find agency partners who take the time to understand that level of complexity. At Bonobos, I ultimately saw that being a CMO can feel intractable; it’s hard to find two who have precisely the same accountability or list of responsibilities.
Back at GS&P, we are building a strategy-led practice that works with companies to help tell their brand stories from the inside out. Yet I’m also here to remind people that what clients need from their agency partners is constantly changing, driven by the ever-shifting demands on what it means to be a marketer today. Frankly, there’s lots that agencies are still getting wrong!
So, what exactly do agencies need to do to attract and retain their clients? How do they need to change their game?
Based on my experience, and recent conversations with clients across industries and functions, it comes down to three essential questions. I wish the agencies I worked with on the client side had asked themselves these questions when I hired them.
How can we be faster and more flexible?
Agencies are known for fixed processes, standard staffing structures and prescribed timelines. These things have to go. Due to the pace and demands of business, clients are looking for partners who can assemble talent quickly, provide flexible and dynamic staffing structures and deliver ideas that keep pace with the speed of business.
Are we honestly curious about the business?
Agencies will never know as much about a client’s business as the client does. But being a good partner requires a “show-you-that-you-know me” mentality. Agencies need to demonstrate curiosity as they seek to understand not only consumer data and how to reach people across media channels, but the details of internal client dynamics, culture and processes. This means doing less talking and more active listening.
Can we help solve real business challenges?
Agencies must evolve beyond only creative execution to help solve business challenges, big and small. We need to provide additive, innovative insights to spark clearer thinking. And we must bring bold platform ideas that move the needle across the entire spectrum of business objectives, not one-off executions aimed at external communications. Not everything can or should be solved through an ad.
In today’s environment, where so many clients are moving away from AOR relationships to project-based work, successful agencies must adapt. This is why I am so excited to be leading GS&P into a new era of agency partnership focused not just on making ads, but on helping our clients build epic brands with epic thinking through genuine partnership.
Dr. Eric Solomon leads the Brand Camp offering at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.