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The future of the media agency is unclear, and all the better for it

David Grainger
David Grainger (former) Head of Strategy

There’s nothing a media agency likes more than a bit of soul-searching. Every few months someone will ask the existential question, ‘What should we be like in 2012, 2015, 2020?’

The answer is pretty consistent: “We need to be more like McKinsey”. 

We view management consultants with a mixture of fear and awe. We hold them in the same regard as corporate law or a hedge fund, or anything that looks like a proper, grown up job.

Sure, McKinsey are really good at counting, and really good at pointing out inefficiency. But what really riles us is their cosy, effortless relationship with the C-suite. This is entirely our own fault of course; as business got more complicated it seemed only right that we should leave the hard stuff to the grown-ups.

But media agencies have a unique advantage over McKinsey or Accenture… we actually do stuff.  

Our objective advice isn’t consigned to a 500-page report that gathers dust on a CEO’s shelf. Instead, its actioned, improved upon, it goes awry… so we fix it until it’s better than it was before.

We have search specialists who are growing our clients’ business on a daily basis, we have analytics teams who report out quarterly, with an improved plan of action that’s tangibly driving sales growth, we can pull campaigns in the face of crisis, and get them up and running again in a matter of hours.

Media agencies are full of brilliant doers, we’re community managers, we’re DR specialists, we’re hard-nosed buyers, and, most recently, we’re taking the lead in content creation at our clients’ request.

Tomorrow, we’ll have to be something completely different again, and we’ll have to get some different types of doers to the ones we’ve already got. But we’ll do it, and we’ll do it without fuss (but a little fanfare to fill some column inches)

Management consultants don’t do any of these things. They wouldn’t really know where to start. So next time someone asks ‘shouldn’t we be a bit more like McKinsey?’, please answer with ‘shouldn’t McKinsey be a bit more like us?’