In a post-advertising world, “Agency Next” teams will reign

You may have noticed I changed careers recently. After 23 years roaming the halls of traditional agencies, I moved to a new role as VP, Head of Content at Quietly, a content marketing agency.

The short version of the story is that it was a measured decision, based on years of observing where the future of marketing is headed—and one that I didn’t take lightly as a lifetime copywriter and creative director. The even shorter version is that it was a strategic move to stay ahead of an impending sea change in the industry. The shortest version? I was after what I call “Agency Next.”

Agency Next teams, as I describe them, take all the good stuff from traditional agencies—the passion, the creativity, the craft—and merge it with an audience-first, data-driven, editorial-led approach.

The operative term here is “editorial-led.” We’re entering a post-advertising world—one where consumers expect immense value from brands. And if I may be so bold, ads don’t cut it anymore. Sure, entertainment value may be high, but ads simply can’t compete with what I call “journalism-grade” content: the kind of stuff people seek out and consume every single day.

Brands should be paying close attention, especially given the recent seismic shift in how we work and consume information. In an era defined by ever-growing screen time, it’s time to cut through the noise and give the people what they want: value.

Giving audiences what they want, where they want it

Okay, so “value” might be one of those bastardized terms. What do I mean, exactly? I mean giving audiences communications that are fundamentally beneficial in-and-of themselves. Valuable content informs, delights, educates, and scratches an itch rather than flailing to create one.

While ads interrupt, content gets away with only half interrupting—because when it’s done right, it gives audiences something they truly want. Our approach is to uncover a need for a brand’s audience, or something they want to be interacting with, and then provide it to them.

Of course, most traditional agencies take somewhat of an audience-centric approach, but the “one main message” still takes precedence. At Quietly, we lead with value and use that to guide the audience toward what we want them to know or the action we want them to take.

And we do this across formats—long-form videos and articles, whitepapers, GIFs, designed assets, you name it—to deliver value in inventive ways. We then atomize the content to work across channels, providing even more value to our clients’ businesses, and more opportunities for audiences to engage with brands on their own terms.

No one puts creatives in a corner

Agencies traditionally follow a pass-the-baton workflow: the strategist briefs the creatives, and the creatives take it from there with the account team coming in at the end. This leaves a dangerous margin for fumbles, because each time you pass a baton, time is lost. More critically, each time you pass a baton, meaning is lost.

Far too often, I’ve seen the baton passed between teams without the necessary overlap that ensures creative interpretation aligns with the data or strategy. That missed step can be the difference between landing on a final product that speaks to your audience, or one that simply catches their attention for a brief second but fails to produce a magical moment.

One of the main things that constantly amazes me about Quietly is the gusto with which we break down these silos. Our workflow is built around what I call “Data + Humanity”—everyone at Quietly is more or less a content strategist operating at different altitudes. Strategy and Content teams are co-pilots, working collaboratively to come up with content ideas that take off directly from the strategic findings.

Why is this beneficial? Well, for starters, it’s efficient—always a plus for clients. But it also takes the abstraction out of content, because whatever we do in the data space is built directly into our creative output.

Letting stories take first chair

Quietly is built to be content-first from the ground up. We think like journalists, not copywriters (this is coming from a copywriter, I might add). We’re built first and foremost to deliver compelling content, and then we expand into campaign-driven thinking and distribution from there.

Put another way, we delve into data to find story threads rather than cracking the big idea first. This involves digging deep into the data (be it search trends, social conversations, etc.) and finding the stories we know audiences are thirsty for. We then build from the bottom up, letting those stories or content pillars ladder up to an overarching campaign concept, which can in turn drive more content

Taking the guesswork out of the equation means our campaigns really hit home. We’re also arriving at them quicker, because they’re rooted in the reality of what we know people are going to want to read, watch, or hear.

Not only that, but we’re about doing work that moves a client’s business first. Winning awards is a distant second. The first thing naturally leads to the second. But no matter what, it has to be the lead.

Building a talent network to scale in any and all industries

I initially had some qualms about running a Vancouver-based content team from Toronto, but not anymore. We’re living in a distributed world, where the talent pool has expanded to include, well, basically everyone.

Thankfully, Quietly saw this coming way before I came along. One of the things that really gets me fired up is our Creator Network of remote talent—to the tune of over 11,000 highly specialized creatives and subject matter experts.

No matter the space, we’re able to tap a creator who knows the topic inside-out rather than sinking billable hours into researching a project before it even kicks off. This enables us to create content that’s on point no matter how niche, and to easily scale our resources no matter the project or deadline.

Paired with this expansive Creator Network, Quietly has a stellar in-house team of Editors and Editorial Managers who come from publishing and journalism backgrounds, and are able to act as controls—ensuring all content rings true for the brand and is aligned with client goals. In other words, we’re producing a high volume of content that’s engineered to succeed.

It’s a far cry from the 1:1 pairing of copywriters and art directors we often see—and while that formula creates great ads, I’m skeptical that it can create the hard-hitting content that’s needed to convert audiences in today’s landscape. COVID-19 has sped up an inevitable shift to distributed work models. But thanks to our Creator Network, we’re already set up to think this way and to scale our resources to meet the demands of our clients.

Now what?

Quietly was already a well-oiled machine before I came along. So, where do I fit in?

I’m excited to bring together the campaign-driven thinking, creativity, and high level of craft so prominent in traditional agencies with the data-driven methodologies and processes already perfected by our team.

We’re going to continue moving into new territories, and keep thinking beyond the usual suspects when it comes to formats and channels. With that approach, there’s no limit to where we can go with our content campaigns. Needless to say, I’ve bought in, and am ready to take Agency Next to its next iteration with a stellar team in tow.

It’s clear that I could talk about this stuff for hours, and I’m ready to share a virtual pint if you want to know more. Drop me a line anytime.

Image: Alice Donovan Rouse/Unsplash

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