4 takeaways from the 4A’s look ahead report

Automation, sustainability, the future workforce and recession will shape agencies in 2023.

(Photo credit: Getty Images).

Automation, sustainability, the future of the workforce and a pending recession will shape how agencies navigate 2023, according to the 4A’s lookahead report, released on Tuesday. 

The report, which covers a range of major trends shaping the marketing and agency landscape, zeroed in on these themes as the biggest drivers of businesses over the next 12 months. 

Here are the biggest takeaways from the report.

1. Automation will take root within agencies

AI and automation will reshape agency operations this year, taking root in two forms: automating rote tasks that free up talent for more strategic work and using tools such as ChatGP3 to streamline creative work. 

“Any company will always look at what are [the] tools that we can use to automate. It helps to reduce error, but also accelerate — and that’s important for any organization,” said 4A’s president and CEO Marla Kaplowitz. 

There are fears in the agency world that advancements in AI could displace jobs; the 4A’s and Forrester partnered on a 2020 study that found AI could reduce current agency roles by

11%. “But no one knows what the new roles are that are coming up,” Kaplowitz said.

“That’s the beauty of automation: It affords the time to evolve, invest and grow in what is needed,” she said.  

For now, the 4A’s sees AI impacting more quantitative roles, such as finance. The organization launched the agency operations and business transformation roundtable in 2022, a cross-functional team with representatives from finance, program management and technology to develop best practices and a playbook for agencies on the topic.

Sustainability will become a top priority

Agencies will need to tackle sustainability awareness on two fronts this year: within their own businesses and within client businesses. 

As the Federal Trade Commission plans to release the new Green Guides in 2023, agencies will be armed with more information on how to help their clients avoid greenwashing. 

Internally, agencies will be required to clean up their operations as more government scrutiny is placed on carbon emissions. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) could potentially, for the first time, require companies to report their emissions publicly. 

To prepare for increased scrutiny, the 4A’s is working on a guide for agencies on how to calculate carbon emissions, as well as an ad production calculator.

“We’ve been strong advocates of just trying to drive change,” Kaplowitz said. “There is so much need for alignment on definitions, and then we’re going to need to work as an industry to get a ubiquitous solution.” 

2. The workforce

Talent is always a top concern, but this year agencies will need to focus on reengagement and development after nearly three years of the pandemic. With career development as a big focus, the 4A’s has launched new learning and development programs, including two new series in its Agency Accelerator Certificate program on agency communications and strategic creative thinking, as well as team leadership certification for managers. 

But as the economic outlook remains uncertain, agencies will need to actively focus on talent strategies — especially DE&I-specific initiatives — as cost-cutting begins. 

“I do believe the majority [of agencies] are committed to continuing their DE&I investments, but I do recognize that companies, regardless of size, when the pressure is on financially, often tend to focus on the short term versus long term,” Kaplowitz said. “That would be a missed opportunity in this case.”

To keep their foot on the gas pedal when it comes to DE&I, agencies must treat it as a business imperative versus a talent issue, she added. 

3. The economy

The grim economic outlook coloring 2023 is the elephant in the room shaping all agency decisions. As big companies begin to make layoffs, agencies are starting to create scenario plans — especially those working on global clients. 

“This is not a consistent recession based on economic impact,” Kaplowitz said. “It looks better in the U.S. than many parts of the world.”

While a few agencies have announced layoffs in the early weeks of the year, staffing cuts will depend on how brands are spending on marketing. But there could be an upside for agencies as well.

“During recessionary times you see a real swing back from in-house teams to agencies,” Kaplowitz said. “CFOs like to have that flexibility.”

4. Everything else

Among the other major trends that will shape the year for advertisers is data privacy regulation, which continues to lack federal consensus as laws continue to pass at the state level. The 4A’s, through the Privacy for America Coalition, will continue to lobby for federal legislation in 2023. 

“We’ve now got so many new states moving forward with their own forms of legislation, and it just makes it more challenging for everyone to juggle the different logistics by state,” Kaplowitz said. “It’s very time consuming not only for agencies but also brands.” 

The report also includes a section on emerging trends for marketers, including AI, CX, Web3 and mixed realities. In addition to AI, Kaplowitz sees real potential business applications in the mixed reality space, including AR and VR, in 2023.

“It’s going to be high priced,” she said. “But if you just look at what AR and mixed reality can do, there is so much a brand can leverage in terms of utility and applications for consumers.”

This story first appeared on campaignlive.com. 

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