Wanted: A New Kind of Ad Agency Warrior

Readers know that I have spent quite some time thinking about how the Internet and online advertising will affect the whole overall advertising industry. A recent post on Ogilvy China Digital Watch made me think more about how some of the changes the rapid rise in online advertising spending will affect the advertising industry as a whole.

The advertising industry grew at a time when the divisions and demarcations between different media and media audiences were very clear (TV, radio, print and below the line advertising). It was a good business, and permitted the ad agencies to buy large amounts of media, then resell it to their advertisers, while offering other services (creative, PR, direct mail, etc.) on top as value-added services. Advertising could be divided into brand advertising for global brands and more targeted ads for small local clients. All in all, it was a good service business with healthy margins.

That whole business model has been blown apart with the Internet, and ad agencies are adjusting to the changes. These changes are just starting, and will ripple out to affect other services as well.

The single greatest change brought by the Internet is the shortening of the business cycle. People have more things to do, which means that they need to make decisions, even important decisions, in much shorter time cycles. This means that if they want to find out something about a product/service, they want to know it in as short a time as possible.

This has been enabled by search, a business which Google has built to near-perfection. Add advertising to search results, and you have the Google money machine. Advertising appears in a welcome context instead of being disruptive.

Search advertising has had some negative effect on brand advertising because it is possible, in a very short time, to find out what others are saying about a given product or service. This is not the line from the corporation, but what other buyers are saying. More disruption of the communications process.

The immediate effect for ad agencies is that their whole time-cycle has been disrupted. Instead of the normal annual budgets and precious planning time which goes into big-budget ad campaigns, more corporate attention is going to fighting fires, which usually fall into the PR realm. The agencies are trying to protect their creative and media teams from this hyper speed development cycle in-house, but it is impossible to control what is happening on the advertising client’s side, who is getting continuously distracted by what sounds like noise and chatter.

What is the ad agency to do in order to adapt and survive?

First of all, it is necessary to tell the clients that it is no longer possible to control the message to the customers. The customers are talking back, and there is no way to tell them to shut up. A lot of the customer feedback is noise, but there are also very valuable pieces of information in there.

There is a need for a new kind of ad agency warrior who can go out there and slay the dragons , and collect the valuable information and give it back to the creative teams and client so that they can act on that information in its product and marketing cycle.

Here are my draft job requirements for an ideal candidate:

  • Information researcher, able to use Internet and mobile tools to monitor client-relevant information in real-time;
  • Able to engage with client at all levels (executive and manager) to understand evolving client needs, and to report in real-time on rapid changes in market situation;
  • Able to understand client’s corporate position and voice, and act as a responsible spokesperson and advocate in the digital realm while upholding client’s integrity;
  • Understands how to communicate to different clients on different levels and is able to quickly adjust accordingly
  • Can quickly analyze and learn and communicate this information back to creative and media teams and back to client on a frequent basis;
  • Proactively pushes out information to other team members and clients for their use;
  • Comfortable working with amorphous teams which are changing on a constant basis;
  • Is comfortable communicating in at least two human languages;


  • More than two years’ blogging experience, including acting as an advocate for a product/service;
  • Knowledge of SEO tools and terminology;
  • Understanding of corporate structures and organizations and how they work, and how to get things done in them;
  • Must love doing things fast and independently

Notice that I didn’t include academic credentials? I told you that we needed a new kind of ad agency warrior, didn’t I?

8 Responses to “Wanted: A New Kind of Ad Agency Warrior”

  1. John Guise says:

    That’s a very interesting proposition Paul. It’s a very challenging one too. You’d need a really tech-savvy independent thinker who is also a creative person. I agree with you that this is not a type of job that can be trained for in school. This is a job where one needs to be able to learn on his/her own — especially since continual self-training and awareness of new technologies is a big part of the job.


  2. Kaiser says:

    An excellent and insightful post, Paul. I think you summarize the changes now sweeping the industry, and you lay out the issues with real clarity. I do believe I’ll use your job description next time I’m hiring. I’m also going to pass this post around to all of our people, and really make them live it. Ideas like this do the business a tremendous service. Would you mind if I cross-posted it in its entirety on the blog, with you as “guest author”?

  3. […] following appears in its entirety with the permission of Paul Denlinger. The original post is here at Paul’s excellent blog, The China […]

  4. Sam Flemming says:

    Basically, what you are suggesting is that what is needed is someone with a sense of what is happening in the real world. I think you are right on with this. We have seen that a number of the big agencies and their clients are encapsulated in the way things have always been done. It is risky business for all involved to break out and see what’s really happening, but there really is a new reality happening.

    Consumers are talking back: consumers attacked SVW for a silly advert ( and attacked Dell for false advertising (

    Search does have an impact on brand advertising. Search for Ford Focus using the most common nicknames used on the net and you will find almost all results point to consumer comments (

    Consumers are more informed and are spreading the information more quickly than perhaps brands are hoping they will and the information is trusted. No longer does the brand control the information flow like they used to. For example, Focus owners knew about oil pump recall months before it was officially recalled (

    Having a warrior capable of talking to the client “at levels” is indeed essential as you suggest. However, just as important is for agencies to have its people at all levels understand IWOM and other components of the “new reality” and be able to communicate and execute with clients at all levels. Too often we see that an agency will have one or two “thought leaders” who are truly pushing the envelope via their blog or via impressive presentations to clients, but in the end, when the rubber hits the road, the agency people who actually execute didn’t get the memo and are stuck in the old ways and at best, miss opportunities, and at worst, make obvious mistakes which damage credibility of the brand. You need the warrior, but you need the right culture and the learning organization to support the warrior.

  5. Jason Vu says:

    Someone with soft skills could apply for the position, a fresh way agencies should refer to.

  6. […] offline which are largely out of date. This is the background for my article on why agencies need a new approach to online marketing in […]

  7. […] Online public relations firms will have to draw up and aggressively publicize clear guidelines on what they do, and what they don’t do when it comes to monitoring online behavior in China. Playing multiple roles as player and referee doesn’t make it in my book. I have talked about some of the skills needed in a previous posting. […]

  8. […] if you like this article, you might also like Paul Denlinger’s “A new kind of ad agency warrior” as well as Kaiser Kuo’s “Closing the marketing confidence gap Part […]