Strategy and Culture Change Inside the Agency

In a world with consolidation of client budgets, agencies must begin to target the projects and clients that will allow them to flex not only their creative muscles, but also demonstrate their strategic prowess.  This business and economic climate results in organizations increasing their focus on cost reduction at all levels. This most definitely includes marketing and advertising budgets not necessarily shrinking, but an increased focus on value. Clients are hiring entry-level designers to handle “grunt work,” and replacing tasks previously handled by the agency with projects requiring higher-level thinking.  Obviously, the risk here is that the agency must have the capability and desire to take on this new role.  They must want to be more of a strategic partner than a supplier of clever content.  And that is a significant challenge.

Changing the worldview of people in any cultural context is difficult.  It isn’t as simple as providing new tools or a new slogan. It requires thinking about how long-term modification will influence the cultural and psychological systems people hold dear to their hearts.  Culture change is the term used in public policy making that emphasizes the influence of cultural capital on individual and community behavior. It places stress on the social and cultural capital determinants of decision making and the manner in which these interact with other factors like the availability of information or the financial incentives facing individuals to drive behavior.  Shifting social zeitgeist  (whereby social norms and values that predominate within the cultural capital in society evolve in over time) and requires understanding the motivations and cultural underpinnings of an industry defined by solo acts.  The “big idea” is more than a way of expressing the push to find that singular message in advertising, it represents the way people within agencies work.  It is the lone wolf with the brilliant idea jockeying for power both internally and with the client.  Breaking through that cultural construct is difficult, but a necessity in the changing face of advertising and marketing.  Collaboration and strategic thinking, so readily taken on in the industrial design and product development worlds, are becoming absolute necessities in the world of advertising and marketing.

The opportunity for marketing and advertising firms, especially smaller firms, now lies with the chance to transform their relationships with clients from being the production shop to a strategic partner that can be a valuable solution to a variety of problems.

Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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1 Comment

  1. I find people always pick what I would call the most cliche tags/slogans/designs instead of thinking about how to actually affect culture change. I’ve been working with financial institutions and human service organizations to try and explain how they can be more inclusive with their marketing to people who live in poverty and need their services most, but they continually can’t think outside their middle-class box. I thought that is why they hired an anthropologist, but they don’t seem to be willing to take any of the advice they hired me to give. Even with I show them the scientific evidence and it is an easy thing to fix.

    Good blog. I appreciate your writing style and the discussion.

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