If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that massive global change can come fast and out of the blue, whether you’re ready or not.

Almost every organization on the planet had to scrap its twelve-month plan when Covid-19 landed at the start of 2020. Many companies simply couldn’t adapt fast enough when the rug was suddenly pulled and, sadly, had to close or radically downsize.

The almost miraculous arrival of effective vaccines just a year later means there’s hope that life will soon get back to normal but it would be a huge mistake to think the media industry can, or should, return to the old ways.

For all its devastation, the pandemic held a much-needed magnifying glass up to our sector. It emphasized a denial about how fast things were changing – especially in the technology sphere – and a reluctance by some to help their clients truly become future-ready.

If you’re a fellow media agency in the region thinking “Okay, okay, but we have time to change and can go at our own pace and take clients along with us,” to be blunt, you’re dead wrong.

It’s now or never.

The playing field has changed forever in 2021. Now, media agencies and advertisers alike need to actively prepare and INVEST in the future – which might feel stressful.

Before the crisis, many senior executives we spoke to knew their organizations were too bureaucratic, too siloed, too predictable – too structured for a world that was disappearing. They could see an era of standardization being left behind by heightened connectivity, lower transaction costs, automation, and shifting demographics.

As Bob Dylan immortally put it: “The times they are a‘changin.”

For instance, data science has empowered the insights role, producing a real-time understanding of audiences and offering more effective ways to connect with them. AI and automation are pushing the boundaries of creativity by optimizing content and dynamically compiling digital advertising. This illustrates how the industry is undergoing constant, unstoppable change.

The role of the media agency has shifted. Now it is necessary to be a consultant across all the facets of marketing functions – especially since technology is now more diverse than the media channels themselves.

The truth is, however, that clients usually know what they need today; tomorrow, not so much.

It has long been our focus at UM to help clients see that change was needed NOW and that they had to think much further into the future than one year – not always an easy conversation when people are bogged down in the day-to-day and have a set budget. But the need for a longer vision is a drum we’ve been banging for years and now, we are going to bang it even louder.

At UM, we are always thinking about the future of our clients and have their best interests at heart. We work closely as true partners with them to dream freely and envision how we see their future playing out not just next year, or the year after, but into the next three, four, even five years. We are always assessing where growth will come from and identifying the audiences behind it.

We are busy DOING things right NOW that will benefit our customers; focusing on continuing to develop our talent and establishing key new partnerships in e-commerce and technology. Plus, we’re taking a giant leap of faith with IPG Mediabrands’ $2.3-billion-dollar investment in Acxiom to differentiate our offering by being a much more audience-centric business. Acxiom is a MarTech customer intelligence company that will enable us to provide data-driven solutions aimed at creating better people experiences.

In short: we’re always changing the dynamics to stay ahead!

But here’s the rub.

Our industry is rapidly falling into a spiral of ‘short-termism,’ as the lure of hard and fast results today undermines growth for tomorrow. Therefore, it is time to think about the current agency revenue model so that it is more sustainable.

Effectively futureproofing clients’ brands takes way more effort now than it ever did. Put simply, the scope of what we do has dramatically increased and its very nature has changed because advertisers demand more.

All agencies face a challenge in creating awareness around the need for a new remuneration model, as well as conveying the importance of working in collaboration with advertisers to ensure they invest in the future. Pursuing every avenue to improve positively impacts clients’ bottom line, giving them an edge over their competitors. But we need the fuel to continue to invest!

Therefore, as the agency leader in the region, we have the responsibility to open the discussion about how the value exchange part of the equation needs to shift – for the good of everyone.

Many of us are out here competing to be the agency, client, brand, partner, that is most fit for the future. That’s healthy competition. But there is an urgent need for innovation in remuneration strategies and frameworks. As the data revolution transforms both the opportunity and the output that advertisers require from agencies, it is unfortunate payment models have changed so little.

But in 2021, we have an open door to enter a new era.

We’re striding through it. Who’s coming?