The reinvention of the creative agency

The web has dramatically changed up the type of services that traditional agencies offer. With everything measurable these days, the value of creative work for the sake of creativity has plummeted.

The question is: Is there a future for the traditional creative agency? In this article we discuss the impact of technology on creativity and on the structure of an agency.

The reinvention of the creative agency
The reinvention of the creative agency

The impact of technology on creativity

In the past, agencies have been able to build sustainable businesses from services like conceptual ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. Technology was always subordinate to creativity and creativity was owned by the agency.

Getting a message across used to be plain and simple: you could choose between above the line (branding) and below the line (direct sales promotion). Technology was limited and had not yet entered the creative department. A classic advertising quote is “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”.

It is information technology that sits on the director’s seat today and consumers take agency-sourced creativity in their own hands. “Marketing today is about analytics, big data, algorithms and A/B testing. Exactly the things that traditionally advertising people detest”, says Pablo Jonas, COO for Opus, adding:

“Successful agencies will be those that can breed and nurture the creative nerd”

It is without a doubt that creativity is shifting. But does data rationalise campaigns and smothers spontaneous creativity? How maintainable is a business model built solely around creativity, that is not supported by data and analytics?

The challenge of being first

Innovation is essential to stay ahead of the herd. From book press and light bulbs to cars and planes, and from robotics and antibiotics to 3D printing and the internet; don’t all innovations have their roots in technology? The Dutch innovation-stimulation program shows that 9 out of 10 industries are technologically driven. And 6 of those industries are creative: fashion, design, media, entertainment, gaming and architecture.

Everyone is looking for the innovation that changes the game. In order to sell tickets to a creative conference, an Australian agency is looking for a world’s first. The problem is, everything has been done already. In the following hilarious video clip they mock the emphasis that has been put on being first and gamechanging technology.

The new paradigm of advertising creates hefty responses. John Hegarty, renowned ad man who introduced Brad Pitt to the world for Levi’s, as well as Flat Eric (Remember that song?), says “As an industry we have become so obsessed with technology that we’re forgetting what it is supposed to deliver. People are not interested in technology, they’re interested in what it can do for them.”

What Heggarty fails to point out it that Levi’s, like any contemporary brand, looks for technological innovations, like iBeacons, to engage with their audiences.

Data and technology go hand in hand

Data presents us with facts about our world. From facts comes truth, and agencies never disclose anything but the truth, right?

Is there magic in data? Or is it something that kills creativity? One final example of an innovative approach to using data and technology in traditional advertising: Honda recently ventured into unexplored territory by using data of Ayrton Senna’s fastest lap back in 1989 on the Suzuka circuit using recorded sounds and engine data.

Personally, I think that technology and data fuel creativity. Because technological possibilities are endless and the pool of data is ever-expanding, we might have stumbled upon the fountain of youth for agencies.

The impact of technology on agency structure

With all of the available technologies, it is the role of an agency to understand the challenges of a brand and select the right (mix of) media. Business owners simply can’t understand and keep up-to-date with all new technologies any more. Agencies are quickly becoming enablers between technology and brand ambitions. Ironically enough, from this unexpected corner comes unlimited potential for an agency to grow a sustainable business based on creativity.

A while ago Mullen, an agency who uses “the power of creativity, technology, media and community to help its clients achieve their greatest ambitions” visualised the new marketing ecosystem:

Mullen marketing eco system
Mullen marketing eco system

When an agency accepts the possibilities of technology, it becomes essential to take a close look at the key staff and the technological partners.

Key staff for an agency

Agencies require creative technologists who are familiar with the latest technological trends, who can prove or disprove concepts, can code (and do it fast!) and who can explain abstract themes in laymen’s terms to their own mothers. Like Denzel Washington put it in the movie Philadelphia:

“Now, explain it to me like I’m a four-year-old.”

Sure, not all of these characteristics are necessarily found in one and the same person, but it sure would help. Understanding how to use the internet, does not mean that you can develop the internet.

Agencies need great coders, because their clients expect nothing less. The recruitment policy, then, should be tailored towards attracting the right people

The following video is a good example of creative-meets-technology work to explain the value of visualization:

The right technology partners

If you have the right people on board, it’s time to select the right technologies. Partnering up with software providers is the smart thing to do for various reasons.

    • Creative services

Software developers typically lack the ability to provide best-in-class creative services and combine different solutions. Agencies can do just that, providing synergy to the different software platforms.

    • Technology adds scalability

As opposed to creative work, software and technology are typically scalable. Providing a good fundament for growth for an agency. By embracing technology, an agency gets the opportunity to provide creative services on top of third party software.

    • Get the right advice

Brands looking for technological marketing advice, know they can go to their their agency for this. So, integrated technology becomes a lead generator for the agency.

As Brett Sammels from Law Creative puts it:

“We have always been able to offer the strategic side and also the creative side. If there is such a thing like a silver bullet when it comes to communications, you really have to wrap the strategic thinking and the creative with the data, which is obviously essential, and also the technology. Technology allows us to approach new customers with the great case studies that we built up with our existing clients.”

A successful agency is rewarded with recurring revenues and a software vendor that will generate leads.


Technology and data have changed, but not replaced, creativity. A successful agency is the agency that embraces technology and uses the power of data to find new perspectives on creativity and engagement. This of course has an impact on the structure of the agency, the key staff and the embedment of the right technology. The agency that successfully integrates technology, will be the one that brands will go to for advice on new marketing possibilities.

About the author

Since 2004, Walter van der Scheer has been in touch with European agencies, ranging from independent studio’s to international internet agencies. Walter shares his insights on a regular basis. +

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