Agency-client co-location has grown in popularity in recent years. MMT Digital’s James Cannings explores why this niche practice is hitting the mainstream in 2019.

On-site agencies are set to become more popular in 2019 across marketing services as clients opt for quicker and more efficient ways of working with partners.

Announcing WPP’s three-year plan of “radical evolution” last month, the advertising giant highlighted that on-site agencies or co-location, as it’s also known, will play a key role in the company’s future strategy.

The rise of standalone onsite practices like Oliver and WPP's own Wunderman Inside would seem to further bear this theory out, as co-location becomes a viable alternative to in-housing or working with management consultancies.

Amid further Brexit uncertainty, client spending cuts, and clients shifting to leaner, more efficient ways of working I can only see more hybrid incarnations of the typical client agency relationship appearing.

Co-location is undoubtedly one of these models, certainly in digital, as clients continually grasp for flexible ways of introducing digital transformation projects.

Likewise, in media and creative, though the strategy is not without challenges.

At MMT Digital and our parent company Be Heard we have co-located with clients for many years-and there has no doubt been an uptick in client interest recently. For example, MMT Digital staff are embedded with key clients like Vodafone and Comparethemarket.

For client and agency, the advantages of co-location are obvious: in a nutshell, it fosters a close, collaborative, cost-effective, flexible way of working.

Clients can draw on expertise from agencies and upweight staff numbers depending on workload with a minimum of logistical fuss.

This flexibility means clients can take advantage of short-term opportunities which would be more difficult to do if recruitment lead times were factored in.

Also, this cheek-by-jowl working relationship engenders a culture of risk-taking and enterprise, encouraging workers to take responsibility for their actions while ensuring they have a nuanced understanding of client needs that would be harder to achieve if done remotely.

For clients, not only is working with a small on-site team likely to be cheaper than training up your own staff but will also bring in fresh-thinking to the office and allow you to cherry pick talent.

On the flip side, co-location can present challenges: if a client limits itself exclusively to co-location, then it cuts itself off from access to the best talent. Sometimes a hybrid approach with a mix of co-location and remote teams within the same time zone can be effective

Another challenge linked to this, according to Jenny Burns, CEO of Albion, a creative consultancy, is that staff can become too embedded with a client and lose sight of the end goal.

To offset this, Burns said: “We never embed project teams for longer than nine months to 12 months. We bring on-site staff back to us to make sure they are learning from other projects, so they can take that freshness back to the client where they are working.

Challenges aside, Burns says there has been an uptick in clients wanting this flexible way of working. She said: “Clients don’t want to become reliant on an agency on a big retainer. They want us to be upskilling their staff.”

In media, however, some believe an independence of thought could be lost through co-location.

Graeme Douglas, partner, Bountiful Cow, an independent media agency, said: “Clients hire agencies for their ability to think in a way that they don’t or can’t. Co-location hinders that. It creates a homogenisation of thought.

“Whilst there are operational and logistical benefits that the accountancy overlords might enjoy, these are certainly outweighed by the resultant restrictions on creativity and strategic invention.”

There are undoubtedly pros and cons to the co-location model and clearly there is no one-size fits all client agency model, and hybrid models will continue to emerge. However, it appears the co-location model has enough virtues to ensure it will establish a firmer footing in 2019.