Dentsu Creative asked senior marketers across the globe about what they want most from their agency partners.

Leadership in crisis

Consumer behaviours are changing faster than agencies can keep pace, due to legacy structures and silos.

85% of CMOs around the world agree that while consumer behaviour has changed dramatically in just five years, agencies have failed to respond. An alarming 78% agree that the agency model is no longer fit for purpose, citing agencies’ inability to connect the right constellation of talent around their challenges.

At a time when clients across every sector are facing unprecedented pressures – a supply chain in disarray, a climate in crisis and the worst cost of living crisis in a generation – agencies are lagging behind, not leading the way.

But what does leadership look like in these volatile times?

We asked 500 CMOs across the globe what they need most from their agencies going forward. The results show that despite ongoing uncertainty, today’s CMOs are hungry for change.

Creating culture, changing society 

84% of the CMOs we surveyed agree that modern creativity creates culture, it doesn’t borrow culture. They are exploring their own entertainment platforms and IP, experimenting with programming, podcasting and publishing. 86% agree that the most exciting modern creativity earns attention, it doesn’t borrow it, while a resounding 85% agree that there should be no limit to brand’s ambition; why shouldn’t a brand today make a movie or create a character?

Yet the boundaries between culture and commerce are blurring; to deliver on their aspirations, marketers are embracing a new creative toolkit at the intersection of data, creativity, commerce and technology. 80% agree that technologies such as live streaming are blurring the boundaries between content and commerce as never before, while 88% agree that every touchpoint can and should tell a brand story, from comms to commerce.

Today’s CMOs also aspire to make a difference in the world: 86% agree that modern creativity changes society, powerfully aligning growth and good. We see near universal agreement that brands have an urgent responsibility to take action on climate change, and rejection of the idea that there is a disconnect any longer between what is good for society and what is good for business.

The age of ‘and’

In parallel, today’s CMOs are rejecting old binaries, mindful that navigating the modern world will require a more fluid and nuanced approach: blending brand and experience, long and short term, artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence.

73% of those surveyed agree that there are too many artificial contradictions and binaries in the industry, while 82% agree that marketers must embrace the full richness of the modern marketing toolkit to thrive.

While they embrace change, a significant proportion agree that short-term optimisation cannot be at the expense of longer-term brand building and emotion. More than one in seven CMOs agree that their peers focus on short-term results to the detriment of long-term brand building, optimisation to the detriment of emotion.

Likewise, CMOs believe that one of the greatest barriers to delivering modern creativity is the agencies’ inability to bring down barriers and connect the right blend of brand and experience, data and technology; conversely the greatest opportunity lies in nimbly assembling the right talent, wherever it sits.

Future imperfect

As the economic outlook darkens it will become more tempting to default to short-termism. To neglect the power of emotion, to stick to the tried and tested and cut back on innovation or experimentation.

Time and again studies have shown that brands who stay the course during economic turmoil emerge stronger and return to growth faster. Agencies across the globe will share those studies with anxious clients in the coming weeks.

Yet examples from the past are imperfect guides to the future. We are living not only through an economic crisis but an environmental crisis, and the two are intertwined as never before. Without concerted effort to address climate change, to preserve biodiversity and sustain crops, without concerted effort to dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, volatility in the cost of living is here to stay.

No time for business as usual

This is, quite simply, no time for business as usual.

Old habits are being questioned by consumers re-evaluating every aspect of their spending. Decades-old brand loyalty is being challenged as inflation reaches daunting new highs.

Data from Gartner reveals that 65% of US consumers expect to cut back or to stop buying altogether in at least one product category, while Kantar data shows private label sales in UK supermarkets have reached an all time high.

A time of such dramatic reappraisal is a time for bold new thinking. Clients, like consumers, are being shaken out of their defaults and assumptions. In a volatile world, sheer agency size or points on a map is no longer the advantage it once was, with 85% of CMOs agreeing that there must be a more intelligent way to scale for a sustainable future.

Fortune favours the bold

For the last two years we have tracked the number of CMOs who believe that their business will undergo a “fundamental pivot” in response to climate change. Today, the figure stands at 85%, up four percentage points year on year. It sounds like an extraordinary opportunity and commitment.

Yet when we ask which specific actions businesses are taking in response – investing in sustainable commerce, shifting to renewable energy, creating circular marketplaces – we see relatively little advance year on year and on some metrics even a step backwards.

When we try to understand the barriers to action, logistical complexity is a significant factor. Lack of collaboration is a significant factor. The urgent displacing the vitally important is another, perhaps never more so than today. Yet if we do not act now, then when? The cost-of-living crisis is all too real. Brands, businesses and agencies should be straining every sinew of their imagination and ingenuity to make a difference yesterday. Yet unless we also solve for tomorrow the cycle will only repeat itself.

Which makes it critically important to think long term and short term, growth and good, data and emotion. Bringing fluid talent around the table in a spirit of radical candour and collaboration. It’s time, without silos, structures, egos or in fighting, to lead.