Alastair Duncan has left MRM Worldwide behind. Yes, it’s official.

There’s been much speculation about my current situation with MRM Worldwide. Thanks for all of the enquiries. Now that the company has finally made an official announcement about the changes (on the same day as the Obama inauguration) I am delighted to let followers of this blog know that I have indeed left MRM Worldwide to pursue a new course in the vibrant digital space. I’ll post about the new venture as we go, but it’s all rather exciting and timely.

The agency world is reaching a t-junction and I firmly believe that business has to be able to encourage a new set of skills and management style, grown up in the digital environment, that are properly collaborative and celebrate the people that deliver value for the company. I watched the Obama inauguration with my children, (politely encouraged to switch over from Phineas and Ferb), rather like I had been allowed by my parents to stay up for the first moon landing and was delighted to hear him speak up for the workers, rather than the greedy, and for the doers, rather than the credit bandwagon. Let’s hope he continues to.

In the marketing world, this recent US election is being celebrated as a triumph of ‘digital cleverness’ over the old fashioned slagging TV strategy of the Republicans. Even I got an email from Obama. In the end though, I believe he was selling hope, and a vision for the future. Much of the corporate world sells the past, and it’s tiring being a change agent (I know several) in companies that don’t want to change at their heart, or just will take too long. Observing trends is one thing, adapting to them is another. And there are some deep changes brought about by the internet that I think companies must adapt to.

I was interviewed by McKinsey some years ago about how the digitisation of media would affect the agency business. I was pretty clear about the opportunity and the challenge. Digitisation would eventually expose the pricing structures of media and the agency infrastructure that sat in between the advertisers and the media properties that put messages in front of consumers. Media owners seek the highest bidder for access to their distribution; brand owners seek the lowest bidder for their message distribution. Agencies are in the middle, trying to make a cut both ways. Obviously it’s more complicated than that, and the creation of memorable brand imagery and content for distribution has been where agencies create value for themselves. This relied on having ‘the best people’ and ‘top creative talent’ and an industry of awards recognition emerged to build rank and competition.

The world has moved on. One of the deepest and potentially destructive trends is neatly described, again, by McKinsey. The Internet and related technologies give companies radical new ways to harvest the talents of innovators working outside corporate boundaries. High tech, consumer goods, and automotive companies have to involve customers, suppliers and small specialist businesses, in the creation of new products. By distributing innovation through the value chain, companies reduce costs and get to market faster by eliminating the bottlenecks that come with total control.

Agencies struggle with this concept. They want to control everything, and take credit for everything. The advertising agencies have long known that the ability to marshal the co-creation process has been a competitive advantage, and the role of orchestration creates value, as well as the control process. This meant that in awards ceremonies, the production companies get awards too. Agencies from the direct marketing world tend to be less collaborative, as they don’t have the same self-confidence perhaps, or the associative glamour that shooting with Paul Thomas Anderson or Aki Kaurismaki brings in seductive conversations with Clients.

The d-word tends to make all this rather confusing. Developing a programme for a brand to live successfully on the internet forces a way of working that requires a strong collaborative culture at the heart. That is hard to understand without experience. It’s not clear cut who is responsible in the development process. Ideas do, literally, come from everyone. That has to be a good thing, especially as the words on every marketeer’s lips are ‘the consumer is in control’. But it is not something that the old model of agency self-aggrandisement likes very much. Watch this space 🙂

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