By Mark Kersteen - October 1st, 2014

Advertising Week is in full swing across New York. Agencies and companies large and less-large are talking about what’s here and what’s next. The business interests of marketers, communicators and advertisers  intersect almost everywhere, so naturally we’ve been paying attention. At its halfway point, here’s a summary of Ad Week’s key points for those outside of agency walls so far.

What is it like dealing with agencies?

WPP chief Martin Sorrell asked the question above at a panel on Tuesday, as the Wall Street Journal reports. Evidently, it’s on the minds of folks at agencies and elsewhere. Those in agencies are looking to provide a better, more tailored, and more comprehensive experience to their clients. The clients are asking themselves whether they can get the same results for cheaper without even dealing with agencies.

As Eric Johnson, EVP of global multimedia sales at ESPN, put it: “We’re all going through a transformation, and there’s a lot of pressure on that transformation,” We’ve been looking at brand-agency relationships for a while, but this year's Ad Week seems to be bringing the questions about that relationship to the fore.

As Lisa Utzschneider, vice president of global advertising sales at Amazon Media Group describes in the article above, sometimes it’s just easier to work with clients directly. Several things are driving brands to go around agencies.

One, as more companies focus on making their customers their first priority, they're shifting more of their work in-house. Surprisingly, the best authority on a company’s customers is often the company itself! Instead of spending the time to educate an external agency on the finer details of their customers' habits and interests, they're rerouting that energy into delivering better content and experiences themselves.

Two, as brands collect more data on their customers, they’re less keen on sharing information. After all, it’s worth more than its nonexistent weight in the precious metal of your choice. Instead of sharing it with a vendor (who might end up sharing it with someone else, intentionally or otherwise), it’s easier to do what they need within their own four walls.

Three, the agency ecosystem has changed. There are smaller, more specific agencies that are able to provide the top-notch, niche services that mega-agencies are stretched too wide to cover. Why drive to the supermarket to get a stack of American cheese singles if you live next to an artisanal cheesemaker?

When is an agency not an agency?

While at the Wall Street Journal, this timely article caught my attention as well. Purina has had great success with videos its made through a partnership with Buzzfeed. While the article itself focuses on the difficulty of measuring the effectiveness of these videos, it raises other questions.

Foremost: If Buzzfeed partners with brands to make content and videos—commercials, essentially—are Buzzfeed an ad agency? They’re certainly more than just a website with funny YouTube clips and addictive articles.

It's an example of something we're seeing more and more of. As native content continues to balloon into one of many Next Big Things, the dividers between agencies, publishers, and brands will keep eroding. This is a slow but fundamental shift. We’re moving to a point where we can’t comfortably designate things as agency and non-agency. That means marketers' options for reaching their customers will continue to balloon. Looks like we're going to have even more attendees at Ad Week.

More data, more (security) problems

With so many representative across the advertising spectrum gathered in one place, you often hear about the direction big topics are headed from the people who are pushing them there. In an Ad Week panel on privacy, Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill gave some enlightened comments on the state of advertising, data, and security, Ad Age reports.

Brill argues that data breaches are inevitable, and that it is a company’s responsibility to protect their customers’ privacy and limit the amount of data they collect. Perhaps the key quote is:

“Lots of companies gather data without any clear reason, simply because they might have use for it down the road. ‘That's really punting the problem,’ said Ms. Brill.”

Data for data’s sake isn’t a feasible or sustainable propositions. Agencies and brands alike are going to have to become more strategic about their data use, or either their customers or a regulatory body (like the FTC) will make them.

Ad Week is awesome because it allows a huge stage for people from an array of spaces and industries to talk about the issues that affect all of us. This is the time to get a glimpse of the future, and we’ll be spending the rest of the week trying to do just that.

If you want to hear more discussion on hot-button issues, but can't make it to all the panels you want at Ad Week, then head here.

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