How creative agencies will look in 2023

We took a look at Forrester’s 2023 predictions for agencies and shared our thoughts on hybrid work, product as a service, web3, B2B expertise and privacy liability

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Creative agencies are at a pivot point. Things have changed. There has been a major shift in our ability to offer data-driven insights to fuel our campaigns. Web3, AI and the metaverse are real considerations for our clients’ needs..

At the same time, the pandemic quite literally forever transformed the way agencies work. Hybrid workplaces have changed the way we fuel creativity in our teams, and collaboration models have shifted.

When Forrester’s 2023 predictions for agencies landed in my inbox late last year, it made me consider our Plus Company network made up of 24 agencies worldwide. 

I reached out to my leaders across the network to see how they viewed these predictions, and I’m sharing how they feel things will look at the ground level. 


# 1 - Hybrid work realities will erode agencies’ creative culture advantage.

Agency employees interacting and collaborating differently. Fewer than 20% of agency staff have returned to the workplace, employees are geographically scattered. 

Forrester Prediction: The physical culture of agency will be replaced by a virtual one, the buzz of agency culture will exist in smaller less concentrated doses.

Plus Company POV: “At Plus Company, almost all of our people are hybrid working. We’re thinking differently about what ‘hybrid’ means and how it can support creative culture. To us, building a hybrid creative culture doesn’t stop at splitting our days between home and office – it’s about the future of work  and how we ignite innovation and creativity,” says Yee Makowich, SVP Talent at Plus Company. 

“For example, we’re looking at scaling back on office space and investing those dollars into our employee experience and leaning into how we can empower diversity of thought – so looking at things like weekend getaways, special events and encouraging our employees to go beyond their home or the office for creative inspiration and collaboration. We also believe there’s a lot to be said for quiet and introspection when it comes to creative breakthroughs. Our goal is to strike a balance that allows our people to put these different elements together and make magic.”

Makowich also stresses the importance of asking the big questions in a hybrid world. 

“Hybrid culture also means doubling down on purpose and communications – ‘What do our agencies stand for and how do they show up in the world?’ ‘How do we treat our people?’ ‘How do we connect?’ We’re thinking about what this looks like at all of our agencies and as a network we’ve invested in new internal communications tools that allow us to support and amplify our experiences on and off campus. 


#2 - Product-plus-service opportunities will initiate a changing of the guard in agencies. 

The role and skill set of the client services leader will be replaced by a product marketing leader whose skill set is better suited to manage agencies’ increasing portfolio of products and solutions. 

Forrester Prediction: The software products and services within agencies will  grow enormously; audience platforms; or creative intelligence solutions. A new generation of leaders who possess product marketing and strategy expertise has arisen to take the reins at the agency and holding company level.

Plus Company POV:  Michael Cohen, Plus Company’s Chief Data Analytics Officer agrees that a major shift is occurring in the advertising and marketing services industry as lines are blending between software and services given evolving client needs. 

As more agency networks like Plus Company, and holding companies, shift to meet customer demands and evolve with the industry, there are higher investments in data infrastructure and digital software, designed to augment and enhance customer experience. Combining these capabilities with an ecosystem of strategic partnerships diversifies the portfolio of offerings, differentiates advertisers from their competition and optimizes their business outcomes, Cohen explains.

The power of prediction has reached a new threshold. Faster, more precise, and cheaper prediction results in greater access, adoption, and impact. The explosion of generative AI in the production of images, audio, written prose and computer code, requires us to rethink how we work and learn, and has massive potential to free up time and attention to focus on innovation and creativity of all sorts that enhances the customer experience and objectively improves investments in advertising and marketing, Cohen says.


#3 - Web3/metaverse follies will accelerate the digitization of creative/media agency skill sets. 

Agencies will hastily double their investments in Web3 and metaverse capabilities, clambering to capture the business of the nearly 70% of B2C CMOs. 

Forrester Prediction: Agency investment will include building or buying creative/design for digital interfaces, offering consulting services in metaverse, media and platform partnerships. High-value positions in analytics, computer sciences and digital interface design will grow 20% in 2023.

Plus Company POV: We totally agree! We’ve encouraged Plus Company employees to really lean into web3. 

“It has been of paramount importance that our involvement in web3 is not superficial but it really exemplifies and explores the utility and creative uses of this technology,” says Singapore-based Manolis Perrakis, Innovation Director at We Are Social, part of the Plus Company network.

“It would be foolish for us, or anyone else, to claim that they know what the future of this set of exciting technologies holds. It's through our R&D and interaction with web3 that we identify future opportunities and become innovators in the space.” 

“We have put that into practice through two of our web3 products, Plusconnect and NFTworking. Plusconnect is a platform that acts as a networking and educational tool for our global network of 3000+ employees, whereas NFTworking gamifies the networking experience and acts as a "proof of connection" between professionals in a physical setting during conferences and events. The latter was recently piloted successfully during Advertising Week NY,” Perrakis says.


#4 - The race to acquire B2B marketing expertise will emerge as the next agency gold rush. 

B2B marketing services will provide significant revenue opportunities for both B2C agencies applying their branding, design, creative, and media skill sets to business audiences and B2B agency specialists applying their expertise to a market projected to reach $30 billion. 

Forrester Prediction: Anticipate a 3% to 5% influx of client-side B2B marketing expertise into agencies in 2023. The outflow of B2B marketing talent will represent yet another culture shift inside agencies as the worlds of B2B versus B2C, client side versus agency side, and specialist versus broad practitioner collide in 2023. 

Plus Company POV: "In 2020 when Covid was everywhere, B2B businesses lost the ability to sell in traditional, in-person fashion. In order to survive and continue to grow, they needed to pivot their strategy to take sales online,” says Sarah Bundy, CEO of All Inclusive Marketing, a Plus Company agency headquartered in Vancouver, B.C. with offices in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

AIM recognized this need and pivoted alongside, offering solutions to leverage affiliate partnerships as an additional online sales team to reach prospective clients for B2B brands,” 

Bundy says the pivot paid off. 

“By building out new B2B capabilities, partnerships and team expertise, AIM has more than doubled in size since then. They have become a go-to expert in B2B affiliate and partnership marketing, understanding the needs of driving MQLs, SQLs and conversion tracking through CRMs, and bringing high value partnerships to B2B brands such as Oracle, Unbounce, and BigCommerce, amongst others, to help create business growth opportunities where they didn't exist before."


#5 - Brands will walk back in-house digital media expertise to skirt uncapped privacy liability. 

In 2023, the digital media function will shift back to outsourced agencies from brands reluctant to assume liability surrounding consumer privacy in paid media. 

Prediction: Digital media strategy will return to agencies as in-house digital media capabilities will exist in fewer than 20% of corporate in-house agency operations. Agencies will factor capped and uncapped privacy liability into their costs and contracts, and 20% of media management master services agreements will be rewritten during 2023. 

Plus Company POV: Last year brought many challenges in the digital media industry including 1) increased focus on consumer privacy and protection online 2) mass layoffs from major tech players 3) rapid turnover and talent movement. As such, building and maintaining a high quality in-house team has become more complex, says Brian Cuddy, SVP, Responsible Media Solutions at Cossette Media, a Plus Company agency.

At the same time, there is increased pressure on the client side for more highly technical resources to ensure agencies are plugging into their data, technology, and operations effectively. 

As a result, many companies are re-evaluating the best functions to keep in-house and the best functions to partner with agencies on and for that reason, we will see movement back towards agencies but with much stronger partnership models. 

As this occurs, clients must be well-versed in privacy liability as it relates to usage of their customer data in digital media, even if by an outside party. Shifting functions to the agency will not absolve them of liability and will provide the wrong incentive structure to preserve customer privacy in the space, Cuddy says.

Pivoting-post Pandemic

The pandemic marked a large shift for agencies across the globe. These predictions reflect that. However, it’s critical to lean into changes and constantly challenge ourselves to learn about -  and when appropriate, adopt -  new technologies and new ways of helping our clients build competitive brands that inspire, engage and delight their customers. 


By Brett Marchand