There was a time when, apart from industry awards shows and the occasional book from an advertising or PR industry legend – agencies were largely invisible to consumers.  Marketing agencies created advertisements, managed relationships with the press, and generated campaign strategy on behalf of a client, but remained in the background.  Since then, you have agencies rising as creative powerhouses.  You have CP+B launching campaigns that as much demonstrate and further their own identity as they do for their clients.  You have agencies talking about their clients and client work online and through social media.  There are more and more people in leadership roles in agencies creating their own blogs and online identities.  The invisible agency of the past that sits in the background and puts out the ghost written press releases and marketing seems gone forever.

The agencies that are succeding today are the ones that have an identity and have a personality.  Along with that public personality comes the need for recognition and the danger of negative recognition.  The good side is that now agencies might have a more public facing profile where people outside of the world of marketing and advertising might know who they are.  The rising star of Crispin, Porter & Bogusky is a great example of that.  The danger comes in situations like the troubles Edelman had over the past few months with their role in work for Walmart and Microsoft.  These were considered by many to be failures of Edelman, and not failures of Walmart or Microsoft.  The agency was front and center in this situation and though there are bound to be many other situations where having a more public role in client’s work can be risky, I think the benefits can be far more.  Here are just a few of the reasons why I feel the death of the invisible agency is actually a good thing for everyone involved:

  1. More visibility often means more respect. In most situations, this is true.  The more you work in the background for anyone and have an obscured identity, the less valuable you are perceived to be.  If your agency has a bigger profile, you can more easily command respect.
  2. Agencies have more "skin in the game." This strange American expression refers to how committed an agency is likely to be in a client’s business.  By being more visible in marketing efforts, an agency must become more vested in the success of a client’s business.
  3. It is tougher for agencies to pursue indirectly competing work.  Most agencies resolve client conflicts by dropping the account worth less to them.  More visibility makes it more difficult, however, to pursue indirectly competing work.  Ultimately this is of more benefit to the client than an agency, but it is a direct result of the death of the invisible agency. 
  4. It is tougher for clients to fire an agency doing good work. Marketing used to be one of the few worlds where you can do a great job, meet all expectations, On the flip side, the more visibility an agency has, the more people know about the good work they are doing.  When it comes to evaluating an agency, clients now have to think twice about firing an agency – mainly because they will probably be sending a good team with inside information to a competitor to hire.

I have focused here on the positive side, but there is certainly a downside as well.  For readers of this blog from agencies or consulting groups, what do you think?  Is the death of the invisible agency really a good thing?