AI will be great for agencies – if they can harness its power

The race is well and truly on for agencies to adopt artificial intelligence into their everyday work practices.

As an industry often seen as ahead of the game, the advertising sector is feeling the pressure to adapt the technology at scale - or risk being left behind, says Jamie Nosworthy, CEO at The Pistol.

Like anything new, there are concerns about AI, particularly its long-term impact on jobs.

A new study from Ipsos revealed that Australia led the world in nervousness about AI, with almost a third believing it will replace their current job, and only 44% trusting the technology.

It’s a common concern, particularly with the rapid evolution of AI technology and tools, developed to make life (and marketing!) easier for businesses.

Will AI make creative roles redundant? Just ask ChatGPT (actually, don’t!)

This technology is already making agencies nervous about the future of the carefully formed written word and the art of crafting clever copy. Job worries also extend to everything from administration to IT and HR – task automation is a big driver of AI adoption, and while it will boost productivity and significantly lower labour costs, it also has the potential to leave many out of work.

In a recent interview, Emad Mostaque, the CEO of Stability.AI, which funds the development of open source music and text-to-image generating systems, said he believes there will be no programmers in five years. Zero. Their roles will be replaced by AI technology such as Code Interpreter, which upskills people who aren’t “developers”, giving them the training to code their own programs and the ability to also move quickly.

There are some interesting parallels between Stability.AI’s approach and the agency landscape. The constant flow of client preference for full-service, then specialist, then back to full service, then in-house, then back to external agencies is a familiar story. Mostaque says that “generalised systems never outperform a specialised system” and in the case of agency services and the use of AI, this is really interesting. AI for the sake of AI isn’t going to move mountains, but understanding why is really what will make the difference.

By automating more menial tasks, many agencies will have the ability to introduce new roles, focused on innovation and creativity. It’s these roles, and their innate ability to deliver something truly unique, that will continue to drive agencies forward and demonstrate impact, value, and utility with their clients.

But how can agencies leverage the efficiencies and additional operational expenditure unlocked by AI? The answer lies in directly reinvesting savings into enhancing long-term AI capabilities, and not seeing the advent of AI as a threat, but as a challenge, to understand what new roles will look like, and pivoting to create the workforce of the future.

Jamie Nosworthy

For agencies, the focus should be on driving agility, ability, and performance across the business offering, particularly in technology, media and creative.

Put simply, we know AI makes agencies more agile. The technology is able to power valuable insights faster, allowing agencies to act and adapt faster than ever before. If data shows a campaign isn’t hitting the mark, agencies are able to readjust and rethink the advertising in real time, reviewing their audiences, optimising the creative and contextual messaging, or realigning the messaging to ensure it resonates, saving clients valuable ad dollars. It’s the AI-enabled data analysis and marketing science, which enables agencies to move quickly and maximise opportunities as they arise. The result? An improved experience for the customer, and accelerated growth for clients.

AI is also driving rapid technological advancement, enabling agencies to be more agile in how they do business. With new technologies now emerging at a revolutionary pace, agencies are able to create flexibility in programs and workflows that were historically rigid.

AI has also enhanced agencies’ ability to add significant value for their clients. Clients come to agencies for their depth of capability – they want the expertise of dedicated creatives, who know what to create, and how to position brands to get results. While AI doesn’t necessarily make agency teams smarter (we wish!) it does create space within the partnership scope to double down and focus on value-driven work over the executable deliverables. It allows agencies to hone in on what is going to yield results, by freeing up more space and time to be creative and using AI’s in-built capabilities to unlock new opportunities.

AI is also driving the “work smarter, not harder” agenda. The technology has the capability to make “work” easier – it can make sense of big data sets, identify new opportunities, and add an additional layer of critical assessment to minimise wastage and maximise impact.

For agencies, harnessing AI lies in using the technology to deepen partner relationships. As the nation faces an economic downturn, clients are increasingly focused on the bottom line and how they can get maximum ROI. AI allows agencies to create solutions for operational efficiency, scalable content delivery, and quality assurance.

Simply leaning into low-lift AI models has the potential to improve long-term profits. Invariably, success also lies in investing in first-party data capabilities. With the demise of third-party data, organisations who have significantly backed their first-party data capacity over the past few years, will kick the strongest goals with AI. The data, combined with the technology, is able to power personalisation for consumers, enabling businesses to take their marketing strategies to new heights. But it’s important to note: agencies shouldn’t just be running towards AI for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses. Specialised systems, implemented by agencies with a deep understanding of their benefits, will yield the best results. This is particularly critical when it comes to an agency’s overall offering and could be the difference between a potential client opting for your expertise, rather than taking their marketing in-house or with another agency.

Embedding AI within an agency requires a commitment to training and development. Investing in ‘prompt literacy’ is key to nailing the AI transition, as the ability to understand this new language will ultimately affect the quality of the outputs. Yes, the technology is highly intuitive, but it requires expertly trained humans to harness its power to deliver results. We’re not going anywhere just yet…


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