Shapeshifting and death of the traditional shop: Creative agency predictions for 2019

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 31 December 2018

2018 started off as the "year of the consultancy" with 2017's major acquisitions still making waves across the creative sector. Some played down the threat of consultancies, other agencies fought back with their own consultancy offerings and high profile execs fled to newly-formed CMO boards within KPMG and PwC. 12 months later and the perceived threat has dimmed, as agencieshave adapted to compete in a supposed new world order. The brain drain from agencies to consultancies has also started to reverse: PwC's Nicky Bryson returned to TBWA Sydney earlier this year and more recently, Sunita Gloster exited PwC for WPP. 

 As Mark Ritson wrote this year "doing a Howcroft" became industry jargon when the exec jumped to PwC after a long career in advertising. He suggested in 2019 that “doing a Gloster” could enter the industry's vernacular.

Perhaps a bigger story this year than the arrival of the consultancies was the turmoil faced by WPP. The first blow came with the departure of honcho Martin Sorrell amid investigations into personal misconduct and the year didn't improve for the holding company when it also lost some of its biggest global accounts and its share price continued to tank.

Locally there was significant movement within the group - WPP AUNZ CEO Mike Connaghan departed and his replacement is still yet to be named. Another big move came within one of its major networks, Y&R, with CEO Phil McDonald replaced by Leo Burnett boss Pete Bosilkovski.

Under the new leadership of CEO Mark Read the group made its biggest move, merging Y&R and VML to become VMLY&R and then J Walter Thompson with Wunderman to form Wunderman Thompson. The mergers were met with a healthy dose of cynicism, with Cummins&Partners CEO Chris Jeffares summing it up well below - he predicts in 2019 "WPP will be acquired by KPMG and then merge with PWC to form WPPKPMGPWC".

Following the announcement of a radical new direction earlier this month, as well as a new logo, Read outlined more changes that will impact WPP next year, including 3500 jobs facing the chopping block. It remains to be seen if Read's vision will deliver for the group globally and how a new Australian CEO will reshape the local offering, with WPP AUNZ straining under the extra complexity of consolidating the STW brands.

M&C Saatchi chief strategy officer Justin Graham accurately described how agencies are responding to more mergers and the presence of consultancies, saying: "Many agencies will be focused on making sense of forced mergers as others try to hold onto business as opposed to winning it, all while naively attempting to act more like the consultancies."

Other major trends that impacted creative agencies in 2018 was the growing prevalence of global pitches and procurement - both often driving lower margins in the industry. 

On a more positive note, 2018 was the year that many declared creativity had got its mojo back after losing its shine to the power of tech stacks and data. Legacy agencies, like McCann under the new leadership of Nicole Taylor, spoke more proudly of being a "creative agency" instead of a hybrid digital/consultancy/CX/full-service shop. As Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Anthony Gregorio predicts, creativity will become the most important tool for generating brand preference as data and technology becomes ubiquitous. He also predicts that Russel Howcroft and Todd Sampson will finally launch a reality show called Marry a Mad Man.

See all the creative predictions from McCann, Clemenger,  M&C Saatchi and more below, and if something has been missed add your views in our comments section.

Cummins&Partners Sydney MD Kirsty Muddle:

In 2019 we'll see a few more double barreled agency names entering the market as WPP continue to merge their agencies. The consolidation will probably unlock a pitch fest and potentially increase churn in the industry. Lot's of shapeshifting!

Clemenger BBDO CEO Nick Garrett:

As an industry, we are all continuing to grapple with how brilliant ideas and brilliant delivery / systems thinking comes together and that won’t change in 2019…we just need to go faster and be smarter. Optimisation and personalisation will rightly take an unfair share of our collective brainpower, I just hope that we put as much energy and oxygen in to the ideas side of the equation as we do on the delivery side of it.

McCann Australia CEO Nicole Taylor:

I predict that there will be more collapses in the traditional world of advertising. The remaining mother ships that haven’t put creativity at the top of their list, will eventually come unstuck and those of us that have been forced to change will find a way through. I love that we are thinking about our business and industry in a more strategic way and making sure that we have a POV on future proofing ourselves without feeling like we have to become a digital or technology company or even a consultancy to survive. There is more clarity and evidence today than ever before about how important creativity is, how brand is a powerful growth engine and how it connects to commercial success and therefore how we should charge for it. I predict that those who return to a genuine focus on creativity and the conditions to support it, with the most diverse and talented people and do away with hierarchies and conservative leadership, will not only survive…but thrive.

Publicis Communications CEO Michael Rebelo:

Creative cultures will eat strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

303 MullenLowe CEO Nick Cleaver:

If attention is the most competed for currency in the 21st Century those that will win in 2019 will be those that break down siloed thinking and utilise all our artistry to inspire cut through levels of creativity. We are all too busy to take notice of dull content. The Wallabies won’t win the World Cup.

Analogfolk managing director Matt Robinson:

In 2019, the consultancies that were supposed to be stealing the agencies lunch, will instead start to look like friends. Where marketers (and their agencies) had struggled to prove the value of creativity to the boardroom, the consultancies got the ears of the CEO and the board, re-ignited the power of brand building as a growth driver, and drove increased investment in marketing and creativity.

M&C Saatchi chief strategy officer Justin Graham:

I fear 2019 will be a year of playing it safe. Many agencies will be focused on making sense of forced mergers as others try to hold onto business as opposed to win it, all while naively attempting to act more like the consultancies. The FBI investigation into media buying will inevitably hover like a black cloud globally and drive increasingly risk-averse behaviour. What I hope to see is some creative audacity, in all its varied and wonderful forms. Agencies swinging for the fences and showing up more like HBO, or Gucci, or Hamilton, or even LeBron James. New partnerships, speed with new ideas, tech as an enabler and fun as the motivator.

Special Group CEO Lindsey Evans:

We will remember that our industry is creative or it is nothing… not a wannabe consultancy or worst still a programmatic algorithm factory.

Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Anthony Gregorio:

1. As data and technology become ubiquitous, creativity becomes the most important tool for generating brand preference.

2. Humanity will trump easy indignation.

3. Russel Howcroft and Todd Sampson launch a reality show called “Marry a Mad Man.”

Cummins&Partners CEO Chris Jeffares:

Huge opportunities will continue to exist for brands and agencies alike, just like every other year. WPP will be acquired by KPMG and then merge with PWC to form WPPKPMGPWC (the .com domain is still available for $14.99). Sheryl Sandberg will resign and move to Tesla. Elon Musk will move to Mars. Mars will continue to help you work, rest and play. And a champion will rise to lead the resurrection of Advertising as a key driver of growth.

TBWA CEO Paul Bradbury:

After five years being distracted by ad tech, programmatic and AI, next year will see a focus back on brand building, platform ideas and creativity’ Credit to brands like ANZ and Aldi who never forgot the value of long term brand building and are now reaping the rewards.

BWM Dentsu managing director Alex Carr:

2019 will see a pivot from short term performance thinking back to shaping long term brand as a real driver of transformational growth. The key will be not seeing brand as a simplistic ad construct but as a vital discipline that shapes unique experiences both in and out of the organisation.

The Hallway founder Jules Hall:

2019 will be the best year yet.
The creative work will be more engaging. 
The media opportunities will be more inspiring. 
We'll talk less. Do more.
The industry will thrive.
The pitch carry on will carry on.

The Core Agency founder Jon Skinner:

I think agencies will spend less time obsessing about the latest shiny new thing and go back to focusing on what they do best – creating powerful thinking for brands.

WPP chief transformation officer David Fox:

Creative agencies need to understand that what they are famous for - building relevant and sustainable brands - is still the cornerstone to marketing and always will be. Digital agencies, media agencies, PR agencies and consultants can do communications, but so can my mother. What they cannot do as well as creative agencies is build big beautiful brands and communicate them, both emotionally and rationally, in consistent ways at every touchpoint through the consumer experience. The agencies that will grow in 2019 will couple great brand building with culturally significant communications. And then if they can also deliver it via new channels then they have a winning growth model. The creative agencies that understand that brand is the unifier - not technology - will continue to be relevant in 2019 and beyond.

The Monkeys group strategy director & partner Fabio Buresti:

2019 – the year brand strategy and brand experience come closer together. I predict an exciting year ahead for creative agencies and consultancies. Both are going to have to work together to solve one of the biggest pain points for the modern day CMO - bridging the brand strategy and brand experience divide. And both parties have work to do. Creative agencies are going to have to learn how to write brand strategies that are big and enduring enough to drive more than just comms. While consultancies will need to find a way to use these brand strategies to develop distinct brand experiences that can’t be replicated by anybody else. This is my prediction for what needs to happen in 2019. It already is for us.

Digitas creative director Simon Brock:

A wave of brands will develop new direct-to-consumer services in 2019, lured by the promise of higher quality data acquisition. Tried (or tired) and tested approaches won’t cut it. Brands will need to create new digital products and services, founded on compelling customer value propositions, which are worthy of people’s time, attention and data. That will inspire creatives to craft innovative work that actually matters to people. Hopefully.

Team Thinkerbell:

We predict prediction columns will start to eat themselves. There will be an increasing number of irreverent answers in this column as more and more people become disillusioned with their ability to predict what’s happening for dinner let alone next year.

Clemenger BBDO Sydney CCO Ben Coulson:

If things go well, I’d like to see us delivering on more of last year’s predictions. As a business we are great at talking about what’s next, but if you look at last year’s list, we’re not as good at following through. Some very good ideas there, one in particular from Chris Kay needs to be top of the list in 2019. Let’s make it the year of getting shit done.

Bastion Collective founder Jack Watts

2019 will be the year of the truly integrated campaign, where clients demand that media and creative are only part of the solution. Truly great creative is an art form that grows brands exponentially. While it is pivotally important, there is more to effective marketing in 2019 than just expressing that creative above the line. For a brand to truly cut through the clutter of a fragmented media market they need to talk to their consumers about who they are (brand/corporate narrative), what they want (research), through the mediums they consume (PR), at the time of their choosing (content), through the things they are passionate about (sponsorship), in the real world (experiential) and in their language (multicultural marketing). Great creative lights up every one of these platforms as they all need to sing from the same hymn sheet.

AKQA MD Brian Vella:

The term “creative agency” will be challenged further as digital and consultants continue to build relationships with the CMO. Defining “creativity” will be harder than ever, and rightly so, as the nature and scope of marketing has evolved so much. As a result, the work that is celebrated and awarded should be questioned also as CMO’s value LCV and customer experiences.

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