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Introduction to The SoDA Report

Wesley ter Haar, Founder and COO, MediaMonks

Design for change. It’s both a call to internal action and a promise to market for the agencies that make up SoDA. Most of us carved out our niche as digital agencies and production shops before digging our way up, out-and-in to roles as the AOR, innovation partner, product company and so much more. And all of us are driven by an existential question that can either trigger dread or make you dream: are we still relevant to our clients? And can we help them stay relevant to theirs? And if so, for how much longer?

We used to be able to roadmap our tech stack and talent needs to the beat of a three-year digital drum. Today? We’re happy if our position and proposition can survive the calendar year. As our industry consolidates, we end up racing to the middle, with the distinct lines of separation between networks, digital indies, consultancies and the variety of innovation, product and production offerings not just blurred, but forever broken.

Design for change means finding higher ground, that’s the only way to stay relevant and stay a step ahead in the eternal race to the bottom. And that’s not just our challenge. Brands and businesses across industries know one thing for sure, change is either here or it’s coming soon, and the next wave of technology, user behavior and digital service will either wash you away or lift you up.

Again, that can trigger dread, or it can make you dream of new models; new ways of working and creating value. Wake up any SoDA member in the middle of the night [1] and we can recite the industry expectations: deliver it faster, for less, and show that it drives results. Manage that? Great! Welcome to the middle, a circle pit of (c)agencies [2] and “partners” jostling for position with creds, decks and pitches that are interchangeable to most clients. The irony has always been that for an industry selling the value of distinction, so few of us are distinct [3].

Higher ground means being able to help clients innovate, shepherding their ever rising digital spend to and through the right platforms and channels, and providing transparency so they can launch and learn. It’s about supporting in-house teams—and maybe even helping staff them—taking short term cuts to client revenue to maintain long term relationships. It’s about finding comfort in clients that might no longer be retained by contract, but become retained by the nature of your ability to plug and play into whatever happens now, what’s near, and what comes next.

For many SoDA agencies this is where we can make a true difference. We are, above all else, a network of entrepreneurs. Our services and products are a baseline, the middle if you will. It’s high time we focus not just on our own revenue and growth, but start selfishly extending that to our clients’ challenges and P&L’s. If we don’t, many of them won’t be here five years from now. Let’s scale up the idea of the agile product owner to the breadth of our clients’ business and own our entrepreneurial distinction. It will allow us to be consultative and creative in ways that others can’t, and flexible in ways impossible to implement for many.

On a personal note, I believe the best version of our company is a perpetual motion machine. Never settling or finding its final form. Our ability to change, both in small ways and big, is in direct correlation to the growth of MediaMonks. Growth is driven by two key components: the ability to handle stressors and friction—both in ample supply in an ever-changing landscape—and finding space. Finding space gives the ability to see, and then move into areas of growth. Our recent merger with S4Capital is an example of that, a broad and brawny call to change the status quo. To strip away silos, integrate production and performance, and take a stand that creative, quality, and craft combined will forever be a distinction worth paying for.

Finally, this leaves me with my hope that you enjoy this year’s SoDA Report, delivered in close collaboration with our friends at Forrester and the input from the biggest collection of dreaders and dreamers in our industry. Welcome to the front-line of change, and as you read this, keep in mind that our members are already thinking about what comes next.

1. They’re probably still awake thinking about this,
it’s what we do

2. I hear consulgency lost out by one vote

3. Google "700 ad agency philosophies and taglines" for a depressing scroll session

Author picture
About the author: Wesley co-founded MediaMonks in 2001 to wage war on mediocre digital production, working tirelessly to grow it into a creative production powerhouse with global reach and recognition since. Acting as MediaMonks’ COO, Wesley’s a self-described ‘lifeline for deadlines’ and ‘Project Manager of Project Managers’. Next to MediaMonks, Wesley sits on the board of S4Capital, alongside Sir Martin Sorrell.