Recently, I was asked by Ad Club Colorado to be part of a panel discussion on the future of advertising agencies during Colorado Ad Day, an annual forum for Colorado’s dynamic creative community, at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder.

My fellow panelists were Tracy Broderick, president of Karsh Hagan; Brett Grischo, owner of Explore Communications; and D’Arcy Toffolo, executive managing director, Moore. Ryan Manchee, vice president of media innovations and technology, Centro, served as moderator.

Here are three of the many questions posed during the lively hour-long discussion, and my answers.

Q. What value does an agency offer a client today?

A. Agencies offer clients an independent, outside perspective on using creativity to solve business problems. As outsiders, agency leaders often can see brand or business challenges through a different lens and have the freedom to suggest solutions that may feel uncomfortable or out of the ordinary – which is precisely the point. Agencies that have sought to cultivate genuine expertise in specific brand categories may have seen the same or a similar problem many times before, even though to the client it appears unique.

Q. What would you say to a client considering taking the work in house?

A. After having an honest conversation about the pros and cons, if a client wants to take the work in-house, I’d say “Go ahead – and we’ll help you do that.” We provide service offerings recognizing that sometimes clients need to tap our expertise for a limited time – for example, to assess performance of social media channels; to develop a strategy for optimizing engagement; to design processes for content creation, approval and measurement; and to create a starting inventory of engaging content. We understand the client may take over all of these things in the future, while we move on to the next opportunity.

Q. What is the future of advertising agencies?

A. The future of advertising agencies and other creative businesses – including PR firms – is bright provided we take ownership of the fact that we are running businesses. Ad agencies and PR firms must be financially strong to invest in attracting and retaining talent and building winning cultures. Agency leaders must be the adults in the room when it comes to resisting forces that can undermine profitability, including giving away free work, chasing shiny objects and failing to have a clear, compelling point of view.

One More Thing

Preceding the panel, Ad Day’s kick-off speaker was Jeremy Duhon, master storyteller and founder and curator of TEDxMileHigh. Part of his thesis was that each of us has the power to interpret stories of our own past in ways that empower us – to see them as negative, or as positive and inspiring. Jeremy said the most powerful stories are Clear, Universal, Bold and Engaging – the CUBE, a great mnemonic device for storytellers.