The world of advertising is changing at a pace that’s making my head spin. Running a small ad agency is difficult enough, but keeping up with the changes is damn near impossible. I read a lot, and that helps me to at least have some big picture knowledge of what the technologies are. The question is what do I need to put on my radar and what can be ignored? Is Periscope vitally important to the future of marketing? Or is it one of hundreds of apps that will disappear in short order?

I think about these questions every day because I’ve been in advertising for over 20 years now, and I used to understand what I was doing. I like numbers and I like analyzing data, so figuring out the best television program to buy for a particular demographic based on ratings and rate was easy for me. Same for radio, newspaper, or any other advertising medium with established methods of measurement.

Facebook has even reached the point where there are numbers that I can understand and communicate with some clarity to our clients. But there are a boat-load of opportunities that may make sense, or may be a total waste of money. Is engaging 75 people on Instagram valuable? In most instances probably not. Local businesses can’t scale at the level of national or international corporations, so many of the niche applications won’t have an impact.

The issue in marketing today is the sheer volume of options that are available and the daily appearance of new platforms. It’s impossible for even big ad agencies to stay on top of every new development and understand the implications for their clients.

I had the opportunity to talk to Chris Brogan a few weeks ago for 20 minutes (yes, it was pretty cool to talk to a social media icon). My first question was “are ad agencies still relevant, or is the model obsolete?” He said the model is still relevant, and what clients want today is revenue generation (ROI), help learning how to make it happen, and outsourced labor for projects.

The ROI component has become a much bigger issue in recent years. The only way that happens is if the agency and client collaborate and share information on what works and what doesn’t. Learning must be constant in a quickly changing environment. When a relationship is established the sales pitch needs to be left outside and the trust factor has to be strong enough that failure is accepted as part of the growth process. If the agency is afraid that failure means getting fired, they’ll stick with safe, dull, and diminishing returns. If the client isn’t willing to go where their customers are, instead of where they were, the marketing is doomed.

Winfield & Associates has successfully navigated the changes of the last 15 years to remain relevant. But I’m still scared every day that we won’t be able to keep up. A lot of agencies have disappeared in the last 10 years. Marketing is moving to a pull model from a push model because that’s what consumers want. Agencies today have to be a hybrid of consultant, analyst, mathematician, and creative guru.

The change is going to keep coming at us as the technology grows and changes. The ad agencies that adjust and provide real guidance for their clients will prosper. The clients that cling to the past (we’ve always done it that way) will be shaken out by the smarter, faster competition. Borders didn’t think was a threat, and look how that turned out.

The agency of the future and the client of the future have to forge a partnership (yes, I know it’s clichéd) rather than a vendor relationship. Shared knowledge will win in the marketplace because it has the best chance of meeting the consumer’s needs.