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The rise of hybrid agencies

27 September 2012 on Posts by Twisted Toast

By Louis Eksteen, Twisted Toast

The changing communication landscape, driven by technological advances, is now influencing marketing consultancies such as traditional advertising and public relations agencies, as much as the media sector. Marketers are increasingly in direct control of how their communication activities are created. Thus they require a modernised set of services from their marketing partners.

The new business model shaping marketing communication consulting demands a multidisciplinary approach in which brand content and digital are seamlessly integrated into everything the agency does. It calls for skills and deliverables previous separated in varied disciplines, such as media creation and traditional advertising.

Marketing consultancies that can deliver these new communication services are increasingly called hybrid agencies.

These new hybrid agencies must deliver consulting services on three key platforms.

  • Brand content marketing

The most significant trend creating a need for hybrid agencies is the necessity for brand content marketing. Today all brands are content brands, requiring skills usually associated with traditional media creation, as opposed to Mad Men-like top-down advertising.

As brand content demands less hard sell and promotion, but more intellectual storytelling added value, traditional agencies often struggle to deliver continuous content packages in non-campaign formats. This is how a new crop of hybrid agencies can be differentiated from only delivering pre-made commercials, to recruiting real media creation skill for the execution and management of clients’ owned media platforms.

  • Digital channel creation

In traditional advertising and public relations, agencies create campaign-based communication and hand these over to external media to “place”. A much more in-demand skill set today is the real creation of content for a brand’s own channels.

It’s very easy to quickly create new channel profiles, especially via social. But proper strategic brand channel development on digital platforms that will deliver value over the long term, is much harder. It needs expertise honed by dedicated media experience.

  • Inbound marketing

Less influenced by marketing communication directed at them, users now search and find for themselves. These searches happen completely digitally, long before purchase decisions are made. In other words, if you are available for business digitally, consumers could come to you. Firstly for information via brand content and then to purchase.

Agencies that understand the rise of inbound marketing (as opposed to advertising-based outbound marketing) can set up the platforms required for consumers to find brands where they are, then populate these with brand content that adds value to people’s lives. Inbound marketing promotes content, in context, rather than endeavour to hard sell. Consumers are given loads of information in digestible and relevant ways, allowing them to make up their own minds about what to purchase along the way.

How to spot a hybrid agency

Traditional agencies, used to the linear process of advertising and public relations creation, today require two sets of additional skills: brand content creation expertise, plus digital development and social know-how.

Naturally the big marketing conglomerates are gobbling up specialised boutique shops to enable them to offer their multinational clients all services seemingly under one roof. But as clients are starting to demand integrated communication offerings, the alternative is for agencies to organically develop their own broader skill sets.

When looking for a combination of brand content marketing, digital channel creation and inbound marketing in agencies, I suggest start by asking what an agency's media creation (not planning) experience is. This is a strong indication of whether they can cut it in a world where brands are now the media owners.

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