Guest post from Danny Turnbull, MD at gyro Manchester:

What will the agency of the future look like? We decided to find out.

gyro Manchester is 100 years old this year, quite an impressive milestone, and one that only a handful of other agency brands have achieved. As part of this year of celebration, we are taking the opportunity to look back at some of the huge changes that our sector has undergone during this time and more importantly as the rate of change accelerates what the future holds.

For the past five years, we’ve worked closely with the Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) on a number of future-focused thought leadership projects. As an alumnus of LUMS, I’ve always retained a close affinity with the school, and as a top 10 business school, it’s an ideal partner for a global business-to-business agency like gyro.

As part of this year’s “MBA Consultancy Challenge,” we asked a group of the school’s most talented students “What will the agency of the future look like?”

Over a two-month period, these students spoke to more than 100 key opinion-formers including clients, agencies, trade associations and journalists in both Europe and the United States. They even spoke to a futurologist, next week.

What they came back with was pretty interesting. Sadly, we won’t all be riding hoverboards as I’d hoped, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.

The MBA students identified the three key industry change drivers as such: whether or not there will be continued economic downturn, the ever-present influence of digital and continued fragmentation of media channels.

Based on these drivers, they hypothesized four very different scenarios for the agency model as we know it:

  • Stagnant platforms: Continued downward pressure on global marketing spends will drive the growth of larger agglomerated agency groups with integrated offerings and large economies of scale.
  • Expanding platforms: Fueled by economic growth, agencies and clients are both able to spend and invest in accelerating the pace of integration and driving further channel growth.
  • Shrinking puzzle: Sustained poor economic climate combined with sustained channel growth creates a convergence toward cheaper, more measurable channels. (Arguably where we are currently, certainly in the United Kingdom.)
  • Expanding puzzle: Economic growth and marketing communications spending creates investment in new channels and technologies.

My view is that the differing operating conditions, depending on the geography and verticals, will create an emergence of a combination of all of the above.

What I also found most interesting about this research was when they asked advertisers and agencies what they valued most from their relationships, the answer was the same. In these austere times, both parties were looking to deliver demonstrable return on marketing investment above all else. After that, they said strategic partnerships/thinking was what they valued most as an input/output of their relationships. These were placed ahead of industry experience, creative thinking and integration.

The Harvard Business Review mirrored these findings in a similar study. HBR identified five key imperatives that agencies and clients will be driven by in future years:

  • Lean business techniques of rapid trial and error
  • Utility over content
  • Content as media
  • Agencies becoming more involved in client research and development as well as new product development
  • Many big ideas rather than a singular big idea

As with the LUMS research, these trends would seem to suggest that sustained economic pressures that have been driving agencies and clients toward conflicting objectives for some time now are gradually resulting in the emergence of a more palatable equilibrium premised on closer, more aligned relations.

Sadly, both studies failed to envisage hoverboards as a viable tool for the future. That’s a shame.


Danny Turnbull is managing director of gyro in Manchester. This post originally appeared on Forbes BrandVoice. Follow Danny on Twitter @TurnbullDanny