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Mad Men vs. the Hybrid Inbound Marketing Agency

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 10/3/11 12:00 PM

Are you a Hybrid or a Mad Man (or Woman)?

This past summer, I was invited to hear Lars Bastholm give a talk about the changes in the marketing agency industry. Since then, this blog post has been sitting unfinished for 6 months. Now it is a little long. But I guess there is just something in me that can't present a problem without a solution I could explain. 

(Here's a little background on who Lars is for those who might not know.)

At the time of Lars talk, there was a poll from Ad Age asking readers, "Is agency a dirty word?" The marketing article that resulted suggested that we don't need a new word, we need a new definition. 

The 3 things I still remember from Lars' talk

  • Marketing is in the middle of an identity crisis.

The large agencies want to appear small so that they can be seen as the quick, nimble and human side of marketing that the small agencies are. The smaller agencies want to appear large so that they can attract larger clients who are going to want to know if they have the resources to pull this off.

My answer: Be who you are, and be the best at it. When you start dating, if you pretend to be something you are not... the truth is only a tweet away. Flawed is the new flawless. The new word for this is transparency.

  • Marketing has to be fun, it's in our DNA.

Lars made a point that agencies have to talk with people, not at them. And more to the point, they need to make it fun. When people have fun and feel good, they will remember that message, and do it.

  • Marketing must use it's persuasive powers for good.

Actually, credit for this one has to go to Kathy Allen, who came in to our office for some internal team building using DISC. At one point, a staff member said - is this like learning how to manipulate people? (from the mouths of babes right?) And her response was, ..."only for good - never for evil."

Lars also made this point. We have the power to change minds and motivate people. Not just to buy the latest gadget, but to actually change what is broken around us. That takes passion for something.

So, back to Lars. I asked him after his talk, "Is the model broken? If so, what are your thoughts on a new model?" I think the fact that 3 days after I spoke with Lars, Oligvy officially announced the end of his tenure might answer that.  

His answer, in short, was yes - it is broken. The old model is slow to change and out of touch, and it's just not fun anymore. In a digital age where customers control your message and brand, larger traditional agency models are irrelevant and dying out. As far as what the new model is, he didn't have an answer, and seemed to still be looking for it.

I almost feel bad for the marketing dinosaurs, not because (as some might say) that they are greedy, stupid, or just plain stubborn. Change is hard. But it's not impossible.

What is the new agency model? Well, someone has already written that book - Paul Roezter at PR 20/20 - and having previewed a chapter, I am compelled to agree with him.

It's time to make marketing fun again and noble for once.

The New Agency Model

In his upcoming book, The Marketing Agency Blueprint, Paul Roetzer describes the new agency model as the hybrid agency. A combination of  "tech savvy, open and collaborative" these agencies measure success "by outcomes, not outputs." Profitability is driven by efficiency and productivity, stability is created by the ability and willingness to be nimble, change and adapt in real time. And IMO (in my opinion), the lust for learning. 

Paul goes on to lay out, in detail, how to build a hybrid agency. From systems to people, mindsets to models, it is a blueprint. With so many marketing professionals scrambling to see where they fit in the new landscape, I can see this book becoming a well worn guidebook with highlights and ear marks. I have a few of those myself.

For me, it's bitter sweet to read about my struggles, challenges and victories over the past 5 years journaled out as if someone was watching me the whole time. My hairdresser can attest to the increase colorings to hide the grey, and my family can testify to a never ending workday. But as a disruptive pioneer, it's a relief to know I'm not off in the woods by myself. The west was not won by one person, idea, or dream.

Later I asked Lars one on one, so, what's next? He replied that a lot of people have been asking him that, but he is looking for something to be passionate about that hasn't been done before. 

Well Lars, I found my hybrid marketing agency's passion.

(Hoping you find yours.)

Topics: smarketing, advanced analytics, hybrid marketing agency