I've been in the agency business for over 15 years, and I have seen the shift in agencies of record (AORs) firsthand. After this morning's pitch to expand services to a client, it's been even further validated. The all-encompassing or dare I say “elevated” thinking of an AOR is just not what's needed in today's market. Companies today are seeking a true partner in more ways than one. Operations, data, cost efficiencies, and optimizing workflow processes are just as important, if not more so, than the creative output.
That's not to say great creative isn't required. It's just that for any organization to justify costs—any costs—they must prove their value in multiple ways. One dimension of existing is just not the path forward. Not anymore.
Digital requires AORs to broaden
The digital realm has also forced the AOR path to broaden, maybe even too much. Each channel (email, social, etc.) requires its own level of specialization and focus. That's why we're seeing agencies that market to very specific need states. It's also why many companies are utilizing more than one agency, supplementing work streams as needed by a variety of resources (contractors, smaller specialized agencies, etc.), and sometimes eliminating their AOR altogether.
The danger here is that an overarching strategy can get lost if multiple players are involved. It's hard to manage strategic direction when there are multiple stakeholders and no one source of truth. It used to be that an AOR was responsible for holding the knowledge for a select group of marketing channels (i.e., TV and print). Now, there are so many marketing channels that one agency is no longer managing a brand's integrity. And when multiple stakeholders are dealing with multiple agencies, it can lack the cohesiveness that builds brand strength.
Look to the ‘how' of creative
What agencies need to do today is come to the table with great humility and a breadth of understanding about how to run creative. Notice I said the word “run.” Not just concept, build, and execute. There is so much to uncover to understand the true value of creative and that means looking at not only the “what” but the “how.” It also means understanding the objective in its entirety. Holding the strategy in place as our collective “true north” helps deliver stronger, more impactful creative.
At Aquent Studios, we don't just focus on the “what” of creativity—coming up with a concept and executing it. We consider the entire objective and all the nuances that can affect the desired outcome. Understanding how to run creative is just as important as imagining a concept. Bringing these two aspects together is imperative in today's market. Creative execution can and should support business objectives and desired revenue goals.
The value must be clear
So how does an agency unwrap this so that it's relevant and meaningful to clients without losing the creative spark? We redefine what an AOR is and does. We ensure that each area of specialization is backed up by the data to support an action, a step, or a creative approach. Nothing happens in isolation. The creative, the process, and the proving of value must happen simultaneously, and they must all be clear to the client. It's done through smart operations and proven tactics that demonstrate value clearly and accurately. No smoke and mirrors, no false pretense, just solid creative thinking with proven operational processes that build efficiencies and reduce costs.
What better way to support new opportunities than with exceptional creative and smart spending? A redefined AOR needs to synchronize these pillars to optimize the potential to build long-lasting trusted partnerships that generate revenue without compromising creative integrity.
To keep our creative edge while being relevant to our clients, we must step boldly beyond the boundaries of a typical AOR. We must link data-based strategies with actionable steps and creativity for maximum impact. Smart operations and killer creative. That's the new AOR.