GroupM chairman John Steedman promised himself he wouldn't get into a “catfight” at the latest International Advertising Association (IAA) forum, but when Nine's sales and marketing boss Peter Wiltshire heralded an impending return to full service agencies, Steady just couldn't help himself.
“I completely disagree,” he declared. “The toothpaste is out of the tube. You can't put it back in.”
I've noticed of late industry heavyweights are drawing a line in the sand, staking their claim over what the agency of the future will look like.
As an 'objective bystander', I'm torn.
On the one hand, the whole concept of a return to “full service” seems entirely ludicrous. You can't un-scramble the egg, as Clemenger Group chairman Robert Morgan told me recently.
I can't see a true creative genius ever wanting to end up in an agency full of number crunchers, or a skilled media strategist surviving among the wish-wash of creativity, without the same level of access to data. I realise our industry is more complex than this, but you get my point.
What's more, how could a creative business handle the sheer media volume which flows through the bigger operators? How would the scores of creative shops blend with just a handful of media agencies?
The questions and obstacles seem boundless. What would the industry do? Just mash everyone back together. Clearly it's not so simple – agencies have now become beasts far more complex than when the split first occurred. The ever-growing shopping list of capabilities seems endless, and will only become more convoluted as marketing evolves and diversifies.
But it's this very complexity which has spurred the full service debate. As capabilities are extended, split, outsourced and fragmented, clients have to run through so much more mud to achieve a desired outcome. Many are screaming for simplification.
At the IAA forum Peter Wiltshire spoke of an increasing desire for a “single point of contact”.
While the signs of a full service recovery are by no means dominant, they are becoming increasingly apparent. The full service approach you often find in smaller markets, such as the Ikon and KWP partnership in Adelaide, is starting to find its way into the larger cities.
Just look at the newly launched full service offering NoisyBeast, underwritten by wellbeing brand Swisse. Or look to Mediabrands, which recently pulled creative agency Airborne into its fold. And what about Toyota, which is test driving a full service model, using both Publicis Mojo and Publicis Media for the launch of its 86 model.
I'm hearing rumblings from client side as well. In a recent chat with Nestle's marketing boss David Morgan, he lamented that too many people worked on his business, with too much duplication of effort. The solution Morgan said Nestle would be “well advised to consider” was the creation of a “one-stop shop”, where the best talent from the company's range of rostered agencies could come together as a single unit working on the Nestle business.
Obviously this would be a different incarnation to the full service model of old, but I find it very doubtful an exact replica of the old model could make an industry-wide comeback. Having said that, a range of full service-esque models may increasingly emerge to complement the existing framework, as agencies and clients alike strive for that elusive but important notion of simplification.
As our world becomes more complex, any agency-client relationship which has 'simple' at its core will be an attractive proposition. Of course, 'simple' is easier said than done.
In the words of Steve Jobs: “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”