As we move into December, the series finale and final season of 2020, it’s looking like 2021 will unfortunately feature a few reruns and highlights from a year which was far from a fan favorite. However, I’m relieved to see that we’ve emerged from messy 2020 battle scene a lot more fighting fit, street smart and open to change. There’s a saying that you will repeat what you don’t repair so I’m predicting significant transformation and evolution for our ad industry in 2021in case of any continued chaos.

Major plot twists 

This will be a watershed moment for agencies facing continued volatility, attrition and competition with in-housing and consulting firms. We’ll see changes as agencies invest in building more transparent digital solutions, diverse team structures and innovative means of making themselves indispensable to clients. Plot twist: there is no surprise ending! 

Innovative make-overs and make-unders 

Consulting offerings are growing in importance as programmatic completes its conquest of all channels. With more technical complexity, and brand-driven self-serve planning and buying, agencies are looking towards consulting offerings as a way to provide valueAs agencies re-build (either from staff cuts or attrition due to salary cuts) the smart ones will come back a bit different. I’ve had two c-level execs in the past week tell me they want to add consulting offerings in response to this demand so changes are already happening in the background. However, from where I’m sitting all of the main holding companies have had the same epiphany but none of them have really understood where the gaps are to be able to offer a consultation service that will truly be differentiating for them against other agency or consulting competitors so this service offering change may not allow us to see a clear winner. 

Enter the consulting Hero 

I’ve seen many gaps which need to be filled by agency level consultants to drive our industry forward. Perhaps the most urgent are for people who fully understand the needs (and limitations) of brand’s businesswho can vet and deploy technology and act as a gatekeeper from all the hungry tech vendorsToo often vendors want to showcase their wares without getting to know the client’s business or needs, and naively expect that a large Fortune 500 business can or will change its legacy operations and metrics to suit the vendor’s technological requirements. The result has been a combination of failed deals, painfully slow deployment, a lack of value from the end solution, and more tech procurement hoops to jump through by brands. 

As the need for measurement continues to increase (measuring campaigns, operations and remote staffing) we need brand-experienced consultants to sweep in and save the day who have technical and project expertise to navigate procurement and the successful deployment of these platforms to ensure the right things are being measured, quickly. Consider them the closed captioning translation between tech vendor and everyone on the brand side procurement, insights and innovation teams. 

A change of scenery 

There’s a wave of digital transformation coming –smart agencies are looking at their back-office systems and efficiency. So, alongside that there will be an increasing need for reporting and analytics support as businesses try to make sense of all the data that their technology platforms are providing. After all, data is only useful if the data is fresh and you understand what it’s telling you. Analytics consultants who can create dashboards of integrated data insights and align their data stories back to their initial targets and brand narrative will become indispensable in 2021. 

Multi-sourced teams become the norm 

We’re finding that multi-sourced teams are becoming more in demand as agency and brand teams have learned to become more efficient and agile in 2020 to navigate the economic and seasonal peaks and troughs. Highly skilled and productive talent from businesses like WorkReduce are supplementing more teams, across an expanding list of roles, so teams can staff up fast and nurture their frontline FTEs to focus on the strategic parts of the business which have the greatest impact. This will change how we recruit and care for fulltime employees thus becoming a career business partner rather than just an employer. 

Better talent recruitment & retention 

As our industry continues to see churn of experienced workers, many seeking a change from former roles, the recruitment industry will need to lift its game and transform fundamentally flawed processes. Recruitment will need to evolve from checklist auditing and return to being a people-science which matches the soft skill requirements of a role with the unique lateral skills of experienced jobseekers. Businesses will also put in place better training and support programs to nurture and retain their valued team members, especially if their teams are multi-sourced or running leaner than before. 

I have high hopes for our industry in 2021. We made it through all of the turbulent challenges that 2020 threw at us. It was a year where leaders made the tough decisions necessary to keep their businesses afloat. It was a year that crossed genres from drama to disaster to feel good, one which we all wished would go straight to DVD. 

By comparison, 2021 looks like it will be a year where much needed evolutionary change will be put in place at a personal, company and market level with reinventions that will better suit the times. I predict that these will make all the difference for the continued growth of our advertising industry in the years to come. 

By Brian Dolan, Founder and CEO of WorkReduce 

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