Predictions 2021: advertising agencies, by TBWA & DAN’s Noah Khan

Balance, customer experience and a deeper embrace of new technologies are among the developments TBWA’s Noah Khan foresees for 2021.

By Noah Khan, regional president of digital and innovation – CEE, Africa and Middle East – TBWA & DAN

Last year was incredibly challenging for all of us. It surely was not the year any of us had planned for or predicted. The devastating loss of lives, heart-breaking images of hospitals overrun and struggling to cope and the impact on communities were all a constant reminder that life as we knew it had changed. This led many of us to take a long hard look at our lives, evaluate our priorities and understand what is really important.

This leads to my first prediction for 2021:

Greater balance

Our industry is fuelled by incredible creative minds coming together to challenge conventions and build the exceptional. Burning the midnight oil to crack an idea is exhilarating; a group of very smart people aimed at solving a problem, an intellectual team sport. However, over the past few years, we have become an industry where everyone is on all the time.

I see our industry, like many others, resetting this year – a great many people wanting to spend more of their time on the things that matter to them apart from work. This will lead to greater distribution of work, far more adaptability and a rise in workplace mobility. Flexibility will have a far-reaching impact on our industry. The attraction and retention of talent will see a marked increase, with more people choosing to come into the industry from more varied backgrounds. This will develop greater purpose at an organisation-wide level, which will help attract growth.

More organisations are going to focus on the mental and physical wellbeing of their people, some even enforcing greater downtime for better health and productivity. Creativity will increase, and there are countless studies showcasing this.

Augmented agency

Agencies will embrace automation even more. The technological advancements across platforms and tools will allow more work to be automated and free-up valuable time for us to focus on the truly important things.

Augmented agency models will start to leverage more AI and machine learning in building workflows, supported by recommendation engines with far faster feedback loops that are constantly analysing, helping drive direction and course correction where needed. Agency agility will increase tremendously, enabling us to be what our clients need us to be in any particular moment. This way of working will also lead to better integration and a blurring of discipline lines, helping foster much richer output with far fewer hand-off points. These new structures will provide tremendous insight and value to clients as well, enabling them to have a constant view of performance and results, and therefore driving business intelligence.

Agency augmentation will also allow for a far greater, wider talent pool that is able to come together and create without geographical limitations. Imagine being able to bring in the best of your global talent to contribute to the work that you do.

True partnerships

We have always been a people business. The relationships we have with our clients are what allow us to build great Disruptions and change industry landscapes.

Having a credible business partner is going to be more and more demanded by clients in the year ahead. They will want to work with agencies committed to mutually beneficial relationships that lead to transformative growth, rather than exceptional ones.

Proactivity is the modus operandi for a true partnership, constantly looking for how we grow our client’s future instead of focusing on campaigns alone.


A seamless end-to-end is going to separate the successful brands from the rest. Agencies are going to play a very prominent role in bringing this to life. Customer experience will be key in attracting and retaining brand loyalists and increasing advocacy. An agency that is unable to develop this for its clients will struggle to remain competitive. The pandemic has accelerated the move to digital channels; customers have become used to expecting zero friction from being able to search, investigate and complete their intended actions with ease. Any brand that expects its customers to change their flow to fit its own won’t see much growth.

The need to have more ways in which to discover, engage – through AR and digital-first content – will become paramount. The increase in data speeds through technologies such as 5G and wifi 6 as well as device capabilities is going to provide brands with more freedom to create rich and detailed experiences that were limited before. The ability to leverage conversational marketing models throughout the journey to provide as much information as needed and create real engagement will lead to greater customer satisfaction.

Last year taught us all that predictions are just that. It also taught us about the power of innovation – companies that were able to adapt and change were able to accelerate their growth through difficult times. Redefining the market and not the marketing is expected of agencies and we have to do everything we can to deliver.