The year ahead for… Ad agencies

Running an agency has never been tougher, but the most successful campaigns in 2014 are going to be those that make life simpler, argues Tarek Miknas

I’ll start off this prediction piece by skipping all the jargon that’s usually associated with these articles. So, without further ado, exit stage left engagement, native marketing, retargeting, transcreation (yawn), advertainment, gamification and the world’s current favourite, big data. I’ll leave the buzzwords for someone else.

Instead, let’s start by predicting what’s not going to change. In 2014, we will still all be fighting for agency supremacy and will continue to find solace in one-upping the agency next door, when we should be trying to beat the region next door. The Middle East certainly has the talent and passion to not just keep up with, but to actually surpass the Joneses.

We will continue to rail against the rising cost of living. In Dubai, it’s the rent, in Egypt, the fuel, and across the entire region, for whatever reasons, expenses will continue to rise. Added pressure to improve our talent will remain, whether through training or through recruiting smarter, faster, more digital, more cross platform, more something or other. The implication: higher costs.

The constant quest for more trophies won’t have gone away, meaning more self-funded media placements, production costs and award entry fees with more talent required to package it all and make it pretty. Implication: yet more cost.

Running a communications business has never been tougher. Margins are at rock bottom. Competition, well, I’ve covered that. Expectations? Sky high. Costs? Enough said, I think. All this fiscal pressure will force us all to rethink our strategies and consider simplifying things a bit. And I think that’s my main hope rather than prediction for 2014.

So with the variables above staying constant and simplicity being the theme for 2014, let’s start with what’s most important – the people we’re selling to.

They are bombarded with message after message, or ‘engagement’ after ‘engagement’. How much of what we produce and how much of what we’re especially proud of is meaningful to them? Fundamentally, our reason for being is to connect brands with people. Do it right and they buy into your brand. If that happens, your client buys into your brand, and it’s as simple as that (minus procurement – that’ll be one of the constants).

Attention spans are dwindling. We’re always connected to two or three channels simultaneously spitting out volumes of commercial messages. If we detach a bit from our world and attach to that of our consumer, we’ll figure out pretty quickly that to win attention we’ll need to get our messages out fast, make them easily digestible and clearly enunciate their intention.

Consider the new channels that continue to grow at scale like Pinterest or Instagram – simple, uncluttered layouts and applications that don’t take a lot of time or energy when someone logs on. They depend on a very visual form of communication that’s well organised and intuitive– and that’s the appeal at a time when people are overwhelmed by the constant clamouring for attention.

Facebook created a 20 per cent rule in 2013 – text cannot take up more than 20 per cent of the ad image. Clearly they don’t want to push advertisers away, but rather they would like to ensure delivering on what their ‘fans like’. Learning from Instagram and Pinterest, they also want their site to be a little more loaded with image-based content versus text, which asks more time of the consumer.

Finally, and most specifically to our market, when you think of the mobile penetration across the region, it’s big. Which means that the size of the screen for content that will be created, will be small. As a result, patience for information-heavy content will shrink. Less information means we’ll need to continually sharpen and simplify our messaging, which again, is big, in terms of challenge for our creatives.

The concept of simplifying will translate into agency structure too. With all communication agencies chasing the same buck, we’ll see a continued diversification of talent. Creative directors in media agencies, channel planners in the big ad agencies, graphic designers in PR agencies supporting community managers, and so forth. The people that will add most value are the ones with broader skill sets who can think outside the specialist labels that we currently bestow on them.

Life for everyone has become a battle against time, which has become the ultimate luxury. The winning agencies in 2014 will be those that figure out a way to create time, both internally and externally. Internally, by reconsidering how we structure ourselves. Externally, we’ll come to terms with the fact that the world’s most successful campaigns are going to be those that are not only simple in nature, but will also help to simplify a consumer’s life. Well, here’s hoping, at least.

Tarek Miknas is CEO of FP7 MENA