As an executive search consultant, I see many of the hot trends for 2011, including an economy that continues to recover and clients that are starting to hire in earnest. Companies continue to improve upon their client services, accountability is king, and communication coupled with creativity is the key to many businesses’ success.

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As we move forward into the new year, fixing the “broken agency model” is still a popular parlor game in media circles, as it has been ever since Forrester Research’s February 2008 report, “The Connected Agency.” That repair work has helped the sharper practitioners experience a stronger recovery; but, that said, the agency model isn’t broken — it’s evolving.

Pace of change

As agency emphasis continually moves toward digital, technology increasingly affects not just the deliverables, but every element of the business. The way consumers take in content and the ways we buy/shop have changed radically in just a few years. There is more focus on accountability for agencies than there ever has been. Just last year, an entirely new, billion-dollar industry segment — data purveying — sprang up to provide audience identification, audience discovery, campaign validation, and other forms of accountability. Change is hard, and agencies (and their holding companies) that do business online have little choice but to embrace it.

How to prepare?

What are the most important capability sets for anyone building an agency today? We tell our clients that the top full-service shops of today can execute on these four pillars:

Digital brand activation 

The desired activation at the heart of a digital strategy implies something very different from going into a store or test-driving a car. Smart agencies today go well beyond old notions of engagement and instead steer consumers through the purchase funnel to the desired transaction. This consummation might be a purchase, a brand engagement, or just filling out a form. Because of digital accountability, brand activation belongs at the top of this list. Just ask the creative geniuses at Wieden+Kennedy and their happy Procter &Gamble clients who manage the Old Spice brand.

Social media

Nobody can dispute the power of Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like or the millions of YouTube streams that Wieden+Kennedy’s campaign drove via personalized creatives this past summer. Social media can be the fastest and most precise way to engage directly with potential consumers. Most brands are engaging in social media today to spread their reach and facilitate consumer engagement; however, some are equally concerned with managing bad news, like when a guest has a bad experience at a hotel chain. When a consumer tweets a bad experience, how soon does the hotel brand learn about it? What do they do about it, and how quickly do they act? Are they participating in the social dialogue? The smartest brands are already honing the social skills to manage these situations.

Shopper marketing

As technology enables further accountability, more brands are seeking agency practitioners who are savvy about shopper marketing. These specialists understand a shopper’s habits and can predict his or her mindset even before the shopper reaches a retail space. Taking a 360-degree approach, savvy marketers understand what drives consumers socially, monetarily, and otherwise. Ever wonder why teenage girls prefer to shop in groups rather than alone? Shopper marketing specialists can tell you all about the social reasons for this, and how best to leverage these behaviors in social media campaigns.

Event marketing

Most clients don’t really care where the components of your work come from, as long as the message is consistent and they only have to worry about one profit and loss. But a truly integrated, workable agency should have these skill sets under one roof for fast, consistent results. Everything has to work in concert with the same brand message and strategy. Brands and other clients don’t want to go to multiple companies to pull these disciplines all together. Thanks to the way technology has raised expectations, clients will certainly be holding their agencies accountable for each one.


Erika Weinstein is president and co-founder of Stephen Bradford Search.