Reclaiming Agency is a report that redefines the role of the advertising industry


The Comms Lab team initially interviewed industry leaders like Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman, Ogilvy UK, Jim Carroll, ex-Chairman, BBH, Robert Jones, Head of New Thinking, Wolff Olins, Laurence Green, Founding Partner, 101, David Abraham, CEO, Channel 4, Jonathan Trimble, CEO, 18 Feet & Rising, Jon Steel, WPP Group Planning Director, James Best, CAP Chairman & ex-Chairman DDB and Jane Lingham, Director, BBC Brand.

The interviews revealed that the advertising industry is failing to address the most pressing issues of the day, both in terms of the health of the sector and the wider health of society. As an industry we are becoming less relevant and less powerful.

To understand how to tackle this problem, The Comms Lab delved deeply into the history and evolution of the industry, analysed wider global trends and mapped the early signals of change, bringing all the data together under the watchful eye of complexity expert Dr Orit Gal and her team at Regents University, London.

Reclaiming Agency points a way forward. It uncovers the strategic feasibility of something we call The Purpose Turn; of the advertising industry defining and embodying the positive impact it seeks to have in the world. Our research has revealed that moving from a strategy based on moral neutrality to a strategy based on purpose will be a win-win situation for our industry and society.


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Getting agencies to use their unique abilities to find solutions to society’s problems is not a new challenge or debate. But the Reclaiming Agency report does something very different. Rather than asking the industry to reach out and help from a position of safety and comfort, it reveals the industry itself as under real threat: loss of status, loss of talent, loss of fees. 

This report does not make for comfortable reading. But if you look more carefully, this report is actually a strategy blueprint for the industry. It systematically lays out how the environment is changing around agencies, and how agencies must respond. How they must be a part of that change. Plus in hammering home the risk facing the industry, this report leverages an important insight from behavioural science; that the fear of loss – of status, talent, fees – is the best motivation for change.” Dr Guy Champniss, Henley Business School, University of Reading

We at D&AD have been talking, writing and, in our small way, campaigning on this very subject for the last 4 years; since, in fact, Andy Sandoz, Rosie Arnold and others came up with the idea of the White Pencil – an award category within the D&AD Professional Awards system for brands, campaigns and products that seek, in the immortal words of Lord Leverhulme, to ‘do well by doing good’. Words that, as an expression of what we’re trying to bring about here, have not been bettered since.

Our concern has been that the agency world is falling behind their client counterparts in its ability to think, create and deliver purposeful solutions; that we haven’t and aren’t developing the appropriate strategy tools and metrics; and that we aren’t doing enough to accelerate towards a point where the commercial and sustainabilty agendas intersect and become one and the same. That way, we believe, some sort of salvation may lie.

For all these reasons and many more, D&AD is proud to have supported this wonderful project and report. We will continue to do everything we can to help the industry turn the words into action.”  Tim Lindsay, CEO D&AD

We partnered with the Comms Lab on this report because we believe that as an industry we are long overdue a more positive and opinionated view on what we offer the world. We owe it to our inventive employees, our ambitious clients and the people we work with every day to connect brands and people with a purpose we can believe in. Until we define that more meaningfully, it’s a race to the bottom. We hope that the Reclaiming Agency report will help our industry increase the positive impact it has in the world.” Fern Miller, Chief Strategy and Insight Officer, International, DigitasLBi