Perspective - The continued growth and dominance of indie agencies

By Sam Buchanan | 30 November 2023
Sam Buchanan.

The AdNews end of year Perspectives, looking back at 2023 and forward to next year.

After several years of unrest, courtesy of a little pandemic called COVID-19, 2023 has felt like a return to BAU - or a version of it. Agencies felt confident delivering events at-scale and back working from the office (part of the week anyway), and returned to the usual pattern of booking and buying advertising, without the pandemic caveats. In some ways, 2023 has been a year of rebirth, with a sense that we are “back in full swing,” but with the learnings of operating in an unprecedented market.

But that’s not to say 2023 hasn’t had its challenges. Brands across the board have pulled back on their advertising spend, in light of rising business expenses and the cost-of-living crisis gripping the nation. Many agencies are expected to do more, with less, with pressures to deliver strong ROI for their clients with smaller budgets and less resources.  That won’t change in 2024.

Despite a cooling economy, indie agencies have continued to buck the trend and prosper. Our Indie Census in July showed more than 60% of independent media agencies had already grown in 2023, with the majority predicting overall growth of up to 25%. The figures are demonstrative of the ongoing resilience of indies to deliver results, champion their clients, and provide a more meaningful, personalised service than the bigger agencies. This will become even more imperative in 2024 as consumer confidence wobbles and clients need every dollar to work harder.

The easing of the talent crisis of recent times has also helped buoy the sector. The lifting of international border restrictions, delivering an influx of workers, and dedicated efforts to upskill, retrain and mentor industry professionals has helped to build a talent pool and fill many vacancies. Agencies are reporting renewed confidence in finding and retaining the right talent, and this will reap rewards 2024.

You can’t mention 2023 without mentioning AI. This year also saw the AI revolution truly take hold - and it’s not going anywhere. Agencies now have the challenge of not only embracing the technological change but preparing for its continued evolution in how they work. We’re predicting AI to make significant in-roads in fundamentally changing the way indies work forever in 2024, delivering efficiencies and new systems, both day-to-day and longer term. Now is the time for agencies to start preparing for this new AI-first world - and looking for ways to get ahead of the curve.

We’ve also seen some incredible wins for indies this year, with many gaining major clients like Riparide, The University of Sydney, Chery Motors, Sanitarium and more, from multinational agencies. The wins are a testament to the hard work of indie agencies and ongoing recognition of the value of working with independent, locally owned agencies.

With this in mind, we’re heading into 2024 with plans for the continued growth and dominance of independent agencies across Australia. Yes, agencies will be challenged by the economic climate, but it’s in a cooler market where smaller, independent agencies who are agile and fast-paced can truly thrive. I’m looking forward to ongoing growth for the indie movement nationwide; there is confidence and momentum in the sector, with indies powering industry-leading initiatives, harnessing digital pipes and moving to full-service offerings to remain competitive.

As an organisation, I’m also predicting a big year for the IMAA. After the successful launch of our IMAA Academy this year, I’m looking forward to seeing the academy and its offering expand in 2024. This year alone, we’ve delivered eight online courses, and trained more than 700 people  - all in our efforts to upskill and prepare our workforce of the future. We’re excited to continue to deliver this important initiative.

I’m also looking forward to continuing to develop and champion our purpose work across equality, sustainability and reconciliation. This year, we delivered a number of initiatives including the highly successful Future Leaders of Tomorrow program, pairing marketing and media executives with emerging female leaders for mentoring sessions. We also continued our efforts under our Reconciliation charter, hosting a community engagement morning with Aboriginal organisations ahead of National Reconciliation Week and supporting the Barber Blak Kings indigenous barbering program. All of these initiatives are a critical part of our commitment as an organisation to making tangible, impactful and positive change across the media industry.

The significant groundwork laid in 2023 has set up the indies to confidently tackle economic headwinds and make a real difference for their clients in 2024, with the sector expected to continue to assert its increasing dominance. We can’t wait.

Sam Buchanan is the CEO of IMAA

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