Frederik Andersen – Thinking of running an agency in 2020?

Frederik Andersen, COO, Strategy and Operations, VICE Media Denmark


Color_FrederikAndersenThe most interesting pieces of work in advertising today are those that center around a solid marketing idea united with new digital capabilities, storytelling, and a continuous reassessment of how an audience consumes media.

Advertising agencies are inherently swift to adapt the latest tendencies. At the core of the best advertising, a form of mass communication designed to persuade an audience, is the ability to take cues from current cultural trends rather than invent them. When advertising exploits known references, the audience is already familiar with the context, allowing brand messaging to come through in a split second.


Since agencies own deep relationships with clients, and since they’re among the most aggressive adopters of emerging trends, they’re able to consult with clients and recommend ways to utilize new creative disciplines–that the agencies themselves then absorb into their offering.

However, this is part of the reason the traditional agency model is crumbling. When agencies absorb new creative disciplines, such as storytelling, content creation, brand building, digital innovation, product and packaging design, they fit these into the  organisational structure and business model of the so-called traditional agency, a model based on smaller teams distributed across a pyramid structure. But this is not how the new creative disciplines operate. At all.

The issue with this approach is that, when force-fit into the agency model, the new creative disciplines fail to yield optimal results, becoming an ‘advertising-like’ version of innovation or content development, rather than actual innovation or editorial content.


The agencies that will succeed in 2020 are the ones that understand the difference between advertising and innovation–or content creation, or any of these new creative disciplines–and actively addresses the heterogeneity between them. Since the creative process and organisation of one creative disciplines is different from another, we must abandon the one-size-fits-all organisation of our agencies. This is not limited to how creative teams work together, of course, but impacts the entire agency organisation, including its business model.


An obvious solution is to separate each new discipline into distinct smaller creative units, pretty much like we have design agencies, brand agencies and innovative digital shops today. While this allows for a status quo in how we organize our advertising agencies, and thus will be favored by the part of the business that is focused only on the next financial quarter, the drawback of this siloed attitude is that we lose the synergy effect of the individual teams enriching the thinking and development of one another.

The alternative approach is to revisit how we manage our agencies, knowing that the traditional team structure is optimized for marketing messages, but not, for example, for editorial- or design-led research and development.

Critical to success is how agency leaders choose to lead the new mix of creative competencies as they bleed into business transformation, brand creation and client interaction. Management must cease to identify other disciplines as threats, but rather as stimulation for a constant flux of creative development that will not only sell products or change minds, but help define new audience experiences and relationships with brands.


The above was written based on assumptions made by the author after several years of managing teams within each mentioned discipline.