Sammy Davis, Founder, The Well Creative Consultants Inc.

It’s no secret that things are shifting in terms of the way companies engage with marketing communications professionals today. It used to be that if client-side teams or small businesses needed support, their option was the large PR or marketing agency. That was tradition – the status quo for decades – but as time has gone on, questions have started to arise around the agency model, pertaining to overheads, experience, specialization and transparency. Questions like “How much of our bill goes toward their glass doors and fancy furniture?” and, “Why is the junior account executive doing the majority of the work on our account?” have become increasingly common as clients consider more efficient, effective solutions in helping them reach their business goals.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s no doubt that the traditional agency serves a purpose. For one thing, for example, the traditional agency represents a great PD opportunity for young professionals looking to gain experience across several disciplines. For client-side marketing communications departments looking for support, however, the agency often represents a challenge in farming out the work to junior associates and account coordinators who have yet to develop specialized skills. This lack of experience and specialization, coupled with the high price point of large agencies has led to a major shift in the market in recent years, with companies increasingly seeking out specialized individuals in place of larger teams with varying levels of experience and expertise.

In discussing this shift, a recent article in The Globe and Mail points to the fact that companies like Best Buy and Frito-Lay are moving away from the traditional “agency of record” model, opting instead to work project-to-project on their initiatives with specialized individuals in an effort to reduce overheads. Indeed, an estimated 42% of major brands in Canada and the U.S. dropped the AOR system between 2008 and 2014 alone, setting a shocking precedent for the rest of the industry. As major brands move toward more efficient solutions, so too do small businesses and start ups working with limited resources, and it seems we hear more and more about the failures of the AOR model to serve businesses every day. For example, Erin Crosby, Marketing Manager at Partners Global Corporate Real Estate Inc., recently put it plainly in stating, “As a small but mighty commercial real estate company, the traditional ad agency experience is often not a viable option for us.”

The growing demand for specialists that we are seeing, however, doesn’t simply come on a project-to-project basis anymore, as the gig economy would suggest. Thinking beyond the era of the free agent nation or the “supertemp”, as coined by a Harvard Business Review article back in 2012, the demand for specialists continues to change alongside current market trends. With internal teams owning a growing share of the market’s labour, from 42% in 2008 compared to 58% in 2013, according to a recent Forbes article, companies are now looking to bring specialists onboard full-time to help beef up in-house resources, in addition to finding project-based support on a temporary basis.

When we consider this trend on the heels of the gig economy, the question becomes, what place does the agency have in today’s market? If a new kind of specialist economy is the evolution of the gig economy, what lies ahead for the big machine?

Sammy Davis:

Sammy is a former ad agency executive and founder of The Well Creative Consultants Inc., a leading national network where businesses can connect with specialized marketing communications talent for project-based, full-time and supplemental staffing needs. Connect with Sammy on LinkedIn, Twitter or by email at