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Shivaji Dasgupta

The imminent beginning of the new year is a great time for predictions and the Clagency is destined to be the next significant thing. Clagency as in the Client (embedded) agency or more appropriately, the multifaceted convergence of agency and client. 

Crystal ball gazing in the Marcom arena has focused mostly on the width and depth of agency services, and the evolution of the delivery organisation. Integration has been a buzzword now for many decades and truthfully most networks come across today as a cohesive provider of varied services (digital, media, creative, experiential, data, design) with obviously some doing the United Nations act better than others. Equally, a staggering development has been the habit of consulting organisations to align creative agencies in their fold, thus further expanding the scope of unified services, Accenture and Droga 5 being the poster children of this narrative. 

In a sense the above momentum has distracted us from an even larger occurrence at a structural and operational level, further augmented by post-Covid improvisations. The functioning of the agency, which earlier was totally complementary to client activities, is today largely overlapping in many senses, due to causes which are managerial, ethical and economic as well. It all started with the innocuous placement of the artwork studio within the client premises, a one-time innovation in new age organisations which is rapidly being adopted by the traditionalist. This led to greater control over go to market outcomes in terms of quality, timelines and costs, and has today spiralled to an irreversible alignment that I will further elucidate. 

Quite fundamentally, the pillar of every business today is data, big and small, and the finest application of analysis occurs in digital marketing and communication. Now data, most naturally, is deeply confidential and strategic, and companies love to own it rather tightly, wary of releasing it to leaky external partners. Thus, if the marination of the same can be done in-house by dedicated specialists, then its communication outcomes can also be better navigated. The Data Analytics, CRM and Performance Marketing functions are thus rapidly moving inwards while the genuine expertise still resides with the autonomous entities and a bridge is urgently important. 

When it comes to media and research this shift has long happened and these are perhaps fair benchmarks for the insider-outsider collusion that I am suggesting at a holistic level. In either scenario, there is a happy equilibrium between a resident expert and the outsourced expertise, wherein customer centricity is the prime focus, a judicious blend of customisation and exposure being well achieved. When the creative function was limited to blockbuster campaigns and well-orchestrated tactical manoeuvres, there could be a seminal divide but now with every action demanding a measurable reaction, the need for intuitive and effortless assimilation is high. Exactly why, as a trailer to the main piece, a large cross section of clients is now hiring in-house creative experts to navigate the customer conversations. 

The largest point I wish to make is that the classical separation between agency and client is now alarmingly passe and no amount of concerted integration will help resolve this impasse. Communication and indeed customer engagement are now business agendas and have long been promoted from the silo of Marketing or even Marcom, in tune with the Marketing function being sharply elevated to business operations. Clients are seeking the maximum tangible value from all such encounters while being deeply respectful of non-core competencies and agencies are resolutely seeking the secret sauce for sustainability in business. Thus, the time is indeed ripe for the clagency, the agency embedded in the client organisation, where presence is not judged by physicality but by impact and influence. 

My clagency model is based on the fundamental tenets of hybrid associations, partly physical otherwise digital, fully aligned with the core functions of the client organisation. The agency will have a significant representation within the client premises, strategic and operational, while the ideation rituals can still be external, privy to a meaningful cross category exposure. Imagine then an account lead who is sitting in the client office, ensuring the delivery of data analysis, research priorities and even artworks while liaising with the offsite agency creative workforce who are developing incisive communication. There is really no barrier in client interactions and the brand gets the benefit of the finest form of convergence - stakeholders distant and close uniting for beautiful solutions. From the agency business angle, this model will become a valuable ingredient for retention as the sheer quality of interactions will lead to relationship formulation. 

Indeed, technology will play a huge role in the inception of Clagency, starting with the new era hybrid meeting culture. One can easily imagine a combination of physical presence and distant contribution leading to a vibrant conversation room, where the best of the inner and outer universes converse. What is even more titillating is the hasty development of the metaverse, the embodied internet which is offering to change the way we live, work and buy. If we can engage virtually with unimaginably improved levels of intensity, driven by enhanced presence, then the clagency model can surely be strengthened even further. The other aspect of technology is at the operational level, with AI tools and performance measures ensuring the much-deserved tangibility for communication inputs, long dismissed as emotional and tough to isolate. 

Finally, it must be said that Covid has accelerated this movement, with digital meetings dismissing the sanctity of physical locations, both client and agency operating from home. Furthermore, it may well be true that our emotional boundaries have dissolved considerably, both client and agency realistically realising that they are servants of the business at large, for personal growth at the very least. The clagency is the agency of the future and indeed the present, and it is heartening to note that the client has truthfully evolved. May the agency be blessed with the good sense to duly reciprocate.