What is an Agency?
-noun, plural a.gen.cies - an organization, company, or bureau that provides some service for another.
"Agency", is a pretty broad term. If I say I own an "agency", in the literal sense, I could be in recruitment, window cleaning a taxi driver or a million other occupations. Red Badger are in digital. We build enterprise scale web applications for the likes of Tesco, Sky, Lloyds and Fortnum & Mason. In my industry, most would classify Red Badger as an "agency". We are a member company of the Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) after all. But "agency" in my mind is an outdated term and is used to describe too many things.
When most of my peers, colleagues or competitors are talking about "agency", we are specifically talking about professional services companies that are in marketing/advertising and/or the digital space. Have a look at this list of companies in the Econsultancy Top 100 Digital Agencies (Formerly NMA Top 100) to get an idea of what the industry would define an "agency" these days. There are a number of categories in this list, Full Service/Marketing, Design & Build, Technology, Creative and Media. The categorisation of companies in this list seem dubious at best and service offerings of many of them are very different, despite being placed in the same categorisation. The lines between marketing, advertising, brand, web, agency, consultancy, software house and product startup seem to have become far too blurred, all of which have been thrown into the "agency" bucket.
The term "agency" for me has it’s origins in marketing/advertising like AKQA of old, but as we have moved into the digital age, companies like AKQA have had to adapt their service offerings, adding in a strong technical capability to their armoury. AKQA were once an advertising "agency"; they now call themselves an “ideas and innovation company”. AKQA still have an "agency" arm to them as they still do a lot of brand / campaign work associated to a typical advertising "agency". Digital or not, a campaign is not built to last. However, they now also do full service delivery of longer lasting strategic applications that have a long lasting effect on their clients’ business operations; look at AudiUSA.com. I would argue that this type of work is not that of an "agency".
With the transition of some traditional marketing/advertising agencies to digital agency, technical companies such as Red Badger have been thrown into the "agency" bucket.
This has been something Red Badger has struggled with. We don’t see ourselves as an "agency". As I said previously, for us, the term "agency" has its origins in the marketing space, with work largely focussed on campaigns or brand, be it digital or not. We also don’t see ourselves as "consultancy" because the connotations of that are associated to big cumbersome Tier 1 Management Consultancies such as Accenture and McKinsey.
What's the alternative?
Red Badger deliver enterprise scale web applications for large corporations. They are highly complex, technically advanced solutions that can take upwards of 12 months to build. However, we also take User Centred Design as seriously as we do the Tech. Everything we build is user driven, beautifully designed and simple to use and we have an expert team of creatives to ensure this is the case. Finally, we wrap both the tech and creative teams into incredibly efficient Lean processes, running multi-disciplined, cross-functional teams, shipping into live multiple times a day. This is not the work of “Agency”. So for now, as a slogan to describe Red Badger, we have settled on “Experience Led Software Development Studio”.
Why does it even matter?
The overuse of the term ”Agency” can cause issues. With the ambiguity of what a modern "agency" is, comes hand-in-hand confusion of what different "agencies" do. For big corporations, the sourcing strategy for a supplier has become equally confusing because they don’t know what they are buying.
When does an "agency" become a consultancy? Or are they the same thing? How do you differentiate from a digital advertising "agency" and a software house that builds digital products? I’ll leave you to ponder on that yourselves.
Some examples of companies that might be in the “Agency” bucket but have started to move away from describing themselves as such include some of the following:
- Red Badger - “Experience Led Software Development Studio”
- AKQA - “Ideas and Innovation Company”
- UsTwo - “Global digital product studio”
- Adaptive Lab - “We're a digital innovation company”
Companies are starting to cotton on to the fact that the term “Agency” is confusing and those that provide full service application development are starting to distance themselves from the term and the brand/marketing/advertising stigma attached to it. Surprisingly, companies such as SapientNitro and LBI still describe themselves as an "agency".
So the question I suppose, is do you class your company as an "agency" or is it altogether something else? I think it might be time for a new term that is not “Agency” or “Consultancy” that is more interesting than “Company”. Suggestions on a stamped addressed envelope to Red Badger please!!