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Predictions 2019: The year ahead for advertising agencies by Reda Raad

TBWA\Raad’s Reda Raad says advertising agencies have never been as relevant. But they must also be nimble if they are to survive

By Reda Raad, CEO of TBWA\Raad

There has never been a greater time to be in advertising. The sooner we embrace this belief the better. Not only because positivity breeds success, but because it’s true.

When else were such an abundance of possibilities laid out so readily? When were so many ways to communicate, engage and provoke so easily available? Technology has enabled advertising to be more immersive and interactive than ever before, and yet we still argue about our own relevance, our own shortcomings, and our own failings.

Why? Don’t those who have danced well with the digital revolution possess all the attributes necessary for advertising to shine? Haven’t agencies such as ours crafted creative cultures capable of consistently producing exceptional work? Of course they have. Because they have been brave, have broken boundaries, have taken risks, and have shared the same passion for data-driven creativity. Aren’t we, after all, in the business of ideas?

Sure, the past few years have been brutal, but in a world increasingly dominated by brands, I’d argue that we’re more relevant now than we have ever been. A new breed of agency – one driven by integration, data, content and disruption – has grown from the ashes of the old order. That’s why I believe 2019 will witness a revival of the advertising industry. The revival of Madison Avenue.

The big holding companies are changing, even if belatedly, and while it may be too late for some, there’s important movement from those who had previously been too slow or too reluctant to evolve. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. A much more streamlined, more efficient, more agile, more technologically enabled and more integrated industry is what awaits us.

Further consolidation is not only inevitable but necessary. Clients want simplicity, not complexity. They want a single agency partner for all their needs, not a multitude of disciplines operated by a multitude of bodies. Expect further network integration and consolidation in 2019, more mergers, and the unfortunate but necessary loss of historic agency brands.

Also expect what many thought would never return – the effective re-emergence of full-service agencies. After all, isn’t that what all this talk of integration implies? Isn’t that the road down which all of us – to varying degrees – are travelling? If it is, then the return of media planning to its ancestral home is a given, especially from a digital perspective. The brave will journey down that road in the coming year.

Key to much of this will be the marriage of data and content, as well as the constant identification of cultural triggers that are meaningful to our clients’ brands. That’s the only way to create culture-shifting work.

Meanwhile, the threat from consultancies will recede. It was always an over exaggerated threat anyway. The last thing the world of communication needs is more suits. It requires flair, inventiveness, resourcefulness, wit, wisdom and a dash of brilliance, all blissfully entwined with technological innovation.

None of which means 2019 is going to be economically easier than 2018. The level of uncertainty we have experienced over the past few years will continue. The only difference will be how we operate in such circumstances. Agencies that have concentrated on operational excellence, have forged a robust creative reputation and have rolled with the punches of transformation will thrive. Those who haven’t will either wither or find themselves adorning the headlines of a merger announcement.

Regionally, the rebirth of Saudi Arabia and Egypt in terms of advertising spend is imminent. It needs to be. Two such vital markets should not be left floundering. The importance of smaller satellite offices will also diminish, with centralised creative hubs beginning to dominate.

In the coming year we shouldn’t be discussing whether advertising works or not, or whether advertising is dead. We should be revelling in the unprecedented magic of the moment. We should be discussing how, as a region, we can build an ever-expanding body of iconic work. Work that is talked about globally and shapes our culture. Work that proves the worth of
our industry.

We have a saying at TBWA\Raad that we are ‘always in beta’. It means we’re constantly customising, shedding, fine-tuning. There’s never a sense of rest. There’s always a sense of continuous improvement. Staying relevant, after all, remains our greatest challenge. So expect the unexpected in 2019. Nobody truly knows which way the wind will blow.