Predictions 2023: The year ahead for media agencies – by Mindshare MENA’s Lamiya Boumlaki

By Lamiya Boumlaki, CEO, Mi­­ndshare MENA

In 2023, media agencies must answer a critical question: Do we have what it takes to not merely survive but thrive in the new marketing economy?

I believe the answer is a solid yes – if we deliver product-people-partner transformation.

After 23 years on the client side, I know how extensively brand needs have evolved and how quickly they continue to evolve. Today’s new client brief combines digital, media, creative and tech, and prioritises owning customer relationships and engaging with diverse consumer voices, real-time activation, ever-higher performance standards, lower complexity and internal capacity building.

Agencies, in the main, have not kept pace with the speed and impact of these lightning changes. Niche challengers and non-media actors have stepped in, widening the gap between client and agency and expanding the competitive landscape.

If we are to thrive, we must be willing to take a long hard look at ourselves and determine if we are truly fit for purpose. Our clients have evolved; have we? Do we and our teams know what our future looks like, not only for the 2023 P&L but in three to five years, or 10 to 20 years from now?

Brands today want strategic partners whose ambition, scale, skillset and versatility matches and even surpasses their own, committed partners who are willing to put their money where their mouth is and invest in outcome-driven, rather than output-driven relationships.

If we are willing to redefine ourselves and revolutionise our business model, we will be relevant, indispensable and future-proof.

It begins with product. Doubling down on our infrastructure is a non-negotiable because our clients need it, particularly in a post-recession period of continuing inflation. Those who help clients become more sustainable and capable will gain ground; those who execute short-term for incremental gains will not. We can no longer be only suppliers who rely on trading terms and lowest-cost propositions; we should be strategic enablers known for our diversified services: partners, not vendors.

We need not fear clients’ desires to become more self-sufficient. Historically, agencies have been reluctant to give up ‘our’ bread and butter to our clients for fear of losing our role – fully ignoring the prospect of an infinitely better and more valuable role on offer. Let us stop playing in puddles when we can access the sea.

That redefinition will also change what we as agencies look like. Digital has given us the ability to be more agile and more effective, to reduce complexity and clients want to benefit from that. Having a single line of truth – a single platform that combines creative, conversation, commerce, data and tech that demands a response from audiences – is far more compelling than dealing with multiple agencies and offerings.

I believe this will drive more of a return to the single, full-service model, moving away from agency to platform.

The second core element of our reinvention is people. As a people-reliant industry, prioritising our talent is crucial for our longevity and success. We must do better at proactively anticipating and preparing our workforce and our markets for changing conditions as well as the future of our industry.

We have the choice, for example, between checking the box on Saudisation and investing in upskilling and growing people in the Kingdom to contribute to our success and the success of that vital market. In Egypt, we could either proactively prepare our people for devaluation with foresight and action or respond to it after the fact.

At every level, we must do better at communicating with our people, which includes listening better, sharing our forward planning, reducing uncertainty and improving our responsiveness. We must match their desire to grow with a commitment to their growth.

As established businesses in the region, we have an ability and responsibility to understand MENA as diverse and heterogeneous and act accordingly. This does not end with using that knowledge for our clients and our bottom line but requires serving our people as much if not more than we do our clients. As the Harvard Business Review and so many others have pointed out, people leave because of managers and culture before they leave for money. A committed company culture is the only way to counter resignations great or small.

Finally, our partners and suppliers mark the third key element of our evolution. In 2023 and beyond, I believe, we will see the continuing rise of micro-publishers who have a smaller reach but can enable lifetime value through their loyal audiences and the expansion of retail media networks into full service platforms.

Retail media already represents more than 10 per cent of global ad spend and is expected to grow by 60 per cent within the next four years. How we respond to these twin trends will determine not just our right to play
but the health of the ecosystem for years
to come.

As market leaders, we must continue to nurture the ecosystem with malice towards none and favour towards all. Supporting smaller companies, especially non-competing and tech-first companies, makes us all better and makes our industry more robust and resilient. Any platforms that help drive conversation with audiences expand our collective horizon.

If we do this, we will win. It is this collective vision, which forgoes insularity for inclusiveness and replaces ennui with evolution and champions relevance over shortsightedness, that is the key to unlocking a powerful and fit-for-purpose agency and industry.

This is the future that is within our grasp in 2023.