Are we agile enough?

Published by Claire Herman


16 March 2023


Some time ago I read a McKinsey & Co. article titled “When agile marketing breaks the agency model”. Though this article has been on my mind for a while, it’s more poignant now because, our biggest clients are transitioning to this new way of working. This has led us to assess what this new way of thinking means for us at the agency?

In our introspection we’ve posed the following questions: What is ‘Agile Marketing’? Why is it needed? How us as agencies deliver in this new fast-paced and demanding environment?

In answering these questions, Let’s first unpack the meaning of the word ‘Agile’. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘Agile’ as “to move quickly and easily”. Thus, can we easily conclude that Agile Marketing is a faster way of churning out campaigns? This is not necessarily so.

According to Angela Fryrear, the world’s leading authority on the topic, Agile Marketing refers to:

“…an approach to marketing that utilises the principles and practices of agile methodologies, that includes having self-organizing, cross-functional teams doing work in frequent iterations with continuous feedback”.

In other words, Agile Marketing is a project management methodology for marketing teams to focus on high value projects through self-organisation (squads), experimentation, and delivering work in short bursts. The term sprints is used to describe how bigger projects are broken down into shorter, fast-paced mini projects. This is done so that there is frequent output and regular recalibrating. Throughout each sprint you have regular stand-ups and retrospectives to ensure that the project keeps progressing.

I hear a lot of agency people retorting, “oh yay, more time in meetings”. But there’s another way to look at it. Rather get the job done well with less revisions and reverts. Initially, there will be more meetings, but as the project progresses and the team is optimally recalibrated, the project requires less meetings; fewer revisions and reverts.

Now that we understand what Agile Marketing is, we can begin to see why it is important for our clients. If done correctly it can have the following benefits:

  • Tighter levels of teamwork and collaboration – this ensures that we are all on the same page every step of the way, plus you have the added benefits of diversity of thought (provided you do have a diverse team).

  • Higher levels of quality output – the basis for the shorter sprint way of working ensures that projects are continually assessed and adjusted for optimisation.

  • More regular output and quicker progress – this will ensure that teams are motivated and driven, as they can see the results of their work more frequently.

  • And yes, it will ensure that work gets “churned out” faster, or rather speed of delivery – leading to maximum efficiencies and the related cost savings along the way.

So now we need to ask: is our agency model broken? My answer is Yes, and No. No because Agency deadlines are already super tight as it is – how much faster can we be, right? Although in some instances, production lead times are prohibitive, and we will need to be realistic and work around those timelines, but in those instances, it is important to manage expectations and adjust deadlines accordingly. We are in the business of communication, right? So, we need to do just that – communicate and manage expectations. Luckily Agile Marketing includes regular stand-ups, so we will have ample opportunity to do just that! By-and large, I think most agencies have become quite good at being flexible and adjusting to shifting requirements, especially post-Covid – if the pandemic taught us anything, it most certainly taught us to be agile.

And then yes, the agency model is broken to a certain extent. We operate with very lean teams and time is our scarcest resource. We work across multiple clients, and even if we have dedicated teams, the structure of some clients is extremely complex with multiple divisions and many different stakeholders. So, the expectation that agency team members will be participating at 100% capacity for every single job is unrealistic. Our structure and resource plan will therefore need to change, which will have an obvious impact on our scope of work and recruitment plan, and ultimately our fees.

Where to from here, you ask? I think it is time to have some open and honest conversations, both with our clients and our internal teams, as we are fast approaching this new agile way of working. We need to relook the way our business units are structured and resourced, fast-track training and development plans, and ensure that clear ways of working with solid processes and systems are put in place. And we need to do this FAST!

Are you agile enough? If not, I suggest you get going.