Reconciling efficiency and creativity in agencies - is there an untapped lever of profitability?

By Gert Fahrnberger

One of the most competitive industries

Gone are the days when huge teams of Art Directors, Creative Directors, Copy Writers, and their admin entourage were on retainers for a brand for years.

Today the numbers of in-house agencies in enterprises are rising, multimillion-dollar advertising budgets are being chopped to smaller chunks and the competition is on for every one of them.

Customers are more demanding than ever simply because there are more great agencies out there and they too need to meet the challenges of their competition in times when digitalization and automation dictate an ever-increasing speed.

Customers want their agencies to understand their business and industry. They still want to be stunned by creativity and great communication but at the same time they want to get results ever quicker, at lower costs.

A constant flow of new technology

Of course, the technologies have changed as well and, in their drive to gain a competitive advantage, agencies have always been early adopters of new technologies.

The capability to deliver the right message in the right form via the right medium has always defined success for them. The cycles of adopting new technologies are getting shorter and therefore the ability to adapt quickly has become more important. Colour TV took almost three decades to reach full global mass-adoption, the world wide web and e-mail one and a half decades and social media and mobile handsets just one.

Innovation can be hard

With new media come new production technologies, new software solutions and the internal processes are getting more complex. Today the global martech solution landscape comprises more than 8,000 solutions (source:! It is impossible to keep an overview, but it becomes very clear how important it is to have structures and know-how in place to foster innovation and to scout new technologies that may improve one’s own position.

Technology is also costly, and with the margins falling, process costs and organizational efficiency as well as agility become more important. To achieve measurable business impact, ad agencies must establish integrated processes that drive financial performance, campaign delivery and more efficient collaboration between internal teams and customers.

It is the essential task of leadership to reconcile efficiency and creativity

It is important to remember that creativity remains the core competency of every successful advertising agency. Cumbersome processes and technologies that are difficult to use all too often stand in the way of creativity and margins hugely depend on production.

Therefore, it should be the ultimate goal of effective leadership teams to square the circle between creativity and organizational efficiency in production. Eventually it is time that matters. Time saved in production means quicker execution cycles and hence happier customers, less stress for creatives, increased margins, and a competitive advantage.

There is always room for improvement. But where?

Advertising is revolving around content and so it is obvious that in production the asset life cycle plays an important role. Whether it concerns original artwork or purchased and licensed content, the process starts with the creative brief and ends with archiving, but what happens in-between is what defines profitability and efficiency.

At the core of the asset life cycle we find systems for media asset management, digital asset management (MAM & DAM) and different workflow and collaboration tools with a very high level of maturity.

Interestingly, there is an area that seems quite untouched by change so far, which is buying stock content.

Creatives want to create, and therefore buying stock content may not be the first thing on their agenda. However, the volume of stock content purchased by and through the advertising sector is enormous and so are the costs. A deep dive into the processes involved reveals creative chaos with enormous potential to improve production margins.

Does this situation look familiar?

Standard Content Buying Process
  • Creatives and art buyers require separate user accounts on all the different stock content platforms
  • Searches need to be done one after another until finding the desired result
  • Files need to be downloaded and handled manually
  • Uploading assets to the DAM is done manually or not at all
  • Collaboration with internal and external team members and customers is done in an unstructured way via e-mail or file transfer
  • Customer billing is tedious and time-consuming
  • Finally, quite often asset metadata gets lost along the journey, and important license rights information is lost

Most leadership teams do not even know how big the problem is, because in the grand scheme of things it supposedly plays a minor role.

Well, it may be worth a closer look. Ask yourself: do you have transparency about the number of stock content assets your agency is buying? Locally, nationally, globally? Most likely, you would be surprised, if you knew how much time your team is forced to waste because of the way things work.

A team that is researching and licensing thousands of images, graphics, or videos a year will easily save or waste hundreds of thousand dollars a year, depending on how the process works. For larger agencies or global network agencies the numbers go into the millions.

How can this process be simplified?

Great quality of results can only be achieved with a good diversity of suppliers, but at the same time more suppliers will increase the complexity of your process. Hence the task to simplify the process without compromising on quality can only be achieved by centralizing administration, while giving creatives, art buyers, and producers easy access to the full choice of assets.

The principle behind most great ideas is to make complex issues simple and maybe even fun to work with.

One of the use cases available with Portals is the Content Buying Portal use case. A Content Buying Portal can deliver exactly that. Content Buying Process

One central place to search, find, and buy stock content and having it automatically fed to the asset life cycle can save up to 75% of process time associated.

Learn more about the Content Buying Portal use case here.

Gert Fahrnberger

Gert is Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) at

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