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I recently had a chance to sit in on a fireside chat between Terry Stanley, contributor at Adweek, and Jean Freeman, (@jeanbeanfree) CEO of Zambezi, during Social Media Week (SMW).

This fireside chat was important to sit in on for me because it gave me some perspective on some of the large shifts that we are seeing in the agency world. Agencies that have failed to adapt to recent shifts are impacted by brands that take their marketing services in house.

Despite that, there are numerous success stories – Zambezi being one of them. Some agencies are thriving in spite of new challenges. I wanted to understand what makes these agencies different from the rest and share my lessons learned with you.

Zambezi is one of few female-owned agencies, which makes them unique and noteworthy. The agency landscape is predominantly male-dominated, where men mostly occupy senior leadership and ownership positions.

Zambezi’s female-dominated leadership team stood out to me. I believe that this leadership influenced the way they built their agency. This plays a part in helping them develop their unique point of view, which differs from other agencies.

“Pivoting is part of the norm now. Zambezi is one of very few women-owned companies. I feel that we have a responsibility to show what a modern company should look like.” – Jean Freeman

What Agencies Can Learn From Agency CEO, Jean Freeman

I think that agencies can learn a lot from Freeman because she embodies a lot of the traits that future agencies must exhibitagility, adaptiveness, nimbleness, human centrism, and a desire to be data-driven.

Zambezi originally had its roots in sports and entertainment. However, one of the first contracts Freeman’s agency won was the Vitamin Water contract. From there, her agency grew in the entertainment and lifestyle vertical. This shift involved fundamental management and structural changes. Today, her agency is constantly evolving.

“Being an independent agency is a blessing and a curse. You have flexibility but might not have access to capital.” – Jean Freeman

Below are my 5 takeaways from the Fireside chat.

Five Key Takeaways From Jean Freeman

1. Change is the only constant in the agency world.

Change is a fact of life that we all need to embrace–but agencies must focus on this fact more than most businesses. Technology, marketing, social trends, and social media are moving faster than ever. If you don’t stay on your toes, you’ll miss out, and the gravity of that could seriously harm your clients and your agency.

“Brands moving forward will have to add something to people’s lives. What is your agency adding to society? Customers expect that. We need companies that play more of a role in making our lives better.” – Jean Freeman

Freeman suggests that agencies be mindful and reactive of change so that they can remain competitive and adaptive businesses.

2. The agency of the future must be nimble and adaptable.

This takeaway builds on the previous one. Adaptive agencies that are able to react to (and make) sudden changes when the marketplace shifts will flourish. The landscape is constantly shifting.

Being mindful of this is one thing, and being able to evolve and work with it is another.

The more nimble the agency, the better. Not only will nimble agencies impress their clients, but they will also provide the best marketing solutions and strategies. Working to fit with new conditions will help your agency widen its skill set, and help you become further experts your domain.

3. “Mad Men era” agencies are declining because they are simply not efficient.

Large teams and retainer-based business strategies stifle the type of agility that agencies need to keep up with the market. These strategies also fail to help agencies meet the desires and needs of new-age clients.

Agencies that can cut back their team size while maintaining an efficient workflow are becoming increasingly common.

Agencies that can embrace content iterations, lean marketing strategies, and specialized marketing teams can operate faster and more efficiently, which will ultimately help them keep up with demand. Iterations are the only way to maintain nimbleness and efficiency while avoiding organizational bloating, according to Freeman.

“There are a lot of similarities between larger holding companies and TV networks. They have had growth for past 20 years, but smaller agile competitors are disrupting the game. Meanwhile, the holding companies are looking for ideas on how to get rid of bureaucracy and become closer to their customers.” – Jean Freeman

4. Agencies of the future will find the right balance between data and human emotions.

Data should always inform decisions, but it’s important to remember that humans are not spreadsheets. We will always respond emotionally. So, it’s very important that our marketing is informed by data first, and emotional response second. If it isn’t, then our actions and our marketing run the risk of being irrelevant, or offensive at worst.

“In the future, successful agencies will be on both ends of the spectrum, rather than being either a creative agency or a data agency. Agencies that take the middle ground will thrive, and they will be few and far between.Humans are not spreadsheets. We are irrational beings and will continue to defy predictive behaviours.” – Jean Freeman

5. Brands are going to take things in house because of how fast things change.

Trends move extremely quickly due to social media, and the technological landscape changes daily. Brands want a quick enough (albeit reflexive) response to this matter of fact. This is one big reason why brands want to move their marketing in house.

Despite this, they will still need the type of expertise that agencies can offer. The best thing your agency can do is to become technical masters in your domain while simultaneously practicing speed as a habit.

Entrepreneurship, Marketing Agencies, and Business

Freeman is a huge proponent for agency leaders striving towards being entrepreneurs (or being more entrepreneur-like).

In her opinion, “entrepreneurship is fun. It’s you against the world. It puts you in a position and presents opportunities that you will never have.”

Agencies leaders should strive to be more like entrepreneurs in order to experience this.

In order to shape-up your entrepreneur-like agency leadership qualities, ask yourself the following questions:

1) Why do you need to exist?
2) What are you good at and what are you not good at?
3) What does the business operations look like?

Wrapping Up

What do you think about the future landscape for marketing agencies? Is Freeman right? Should agency CEOs be more like entrepreneurs? Is it time to cut down teams, become more agile, and marry creative with data? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, let us know what your agency is doing to modernize and adapt to the current landscape. Respond to us on social media @HeyOrca, or shoot me an email: Joe@heyorca.com.