The Agency Model: Poised to React or Poised to Attack?

With triple-decade client relationships still in-house, you’d think TBWA\Durban might be content to just keep doing what they’ve been doing.

Not the case.

They aren’t just throwing around the word “integration,” either.

Though there are many group disciplines, which offer a full spectrum of services and depth of thinking for their clients, TBWA\Durban operates under one P&L so the group disciplines aren’t competing with one another. In fact, they… play nice. From research and strategy, to digital, to PR and events, to production, to media planning, and creative, a client need not go outside the TBWA\Durban family.

Many don’t. Clients SPAR (retail department and grocery store), Beiersdorf (Nivea) and Sara Lee (body care brands) have all maintained agency of record relationships with TBWA\Durban for more than thirty years.

Upon hearing this, and without a full understanding of their structure and offerings, I thought, “well, watch out. Once digital gets the kind of legs it’s grown in the U.S., those agency of record relationships will run off on said legs, replaced by project work and piecemeal assignments.”

After all, as clients begin to wrap their heads around digital in the early stages of the adoption cycle, there is often much confusion and fear. Confused about what this new media landscape looks like, what it means and what it entails for them, and afraid that they are already behind participating in the space.

Under these skittish conditions, some clients begin to parcel out pieces of the work, whether on a grander scale of putting their digital business up for review or on a smaller scale of testing projects on different agencies. But fracturing up the brand and the minds working on it can fracture the unification of the brand message one is putting out.

To respond to ever-changing client demands, new agency models are popping up. Lean, mean, nimble machines, which operate with a slim core staff and freelance out the rest depending on the pitch, client, project or need. Not carrying along layers of billable staff who may or may not be suited to the task at hand, but suiting up a kick-ass team when the task arrives in-hand.

But once I better understood the structure in place to manage a piece of business at TBWA\Durban, I realized the error in my initial inclination that clients will run and splinter when digital starts to shake the tree more viciously here in the future.

TBWA\Durban Brand Teams comprise experts across account management, creative, strategy, digital and media (not necessarily all, but the appropriate mix within) giving the client a 3-5 person nimble expert squad to attack and solve their business problems. The teams pull in the right additional team members (what would be the freelancers in the new model referenced above) from the TBWA\Group family, and all have Managing Director Justin McCarthy and Chairman James Porter on speed dial for leadership and stewardship.

Because there are no bottom line conflicts, it does not particularly matter whether the relationship is agency of record or project-based: the resources are all available and integrated either way. Some pieces of business may reside exclusively within one group, but the capacity for organic growth of the business is there, when appropriate.

So regardless of what the future holds for the client business for TBWA\Durban, whether it is continued agency of record, across-discipline relationships, or it is individual project-based assignments with potential and room to grow, TBWA\Durban seems poised to grow and attack. There will be no need to react. 

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