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Navigating the Hype: Agencies in the Age of Tech Whiplash

Lance Concannon

May 25, 2023

Part of what makes agencies special is their ability to keep one eye on the horizon and artfully guide clients through the shifting sands of technological change.

In-house marketers are usually focused heavily on the day-to-day job of keeping the wheels turning for their business; there’s always a new campaign to work on, or an unexpected problem to solve. Often there’s little time for them to take stock and reflect on what new trends and technologies they should be paying attention to. Today’s deadlines always take precedence over tomorrow’s possibilities.

That’s where agencies can add value. Sure, your creativity and ability to execute campaigns flawlessly is the main reason clients hire you, but at the same time they frequently look to agencies to be their finger-on-the-pulse, keeping them informed and inspired by new ideas.

The challenge lies in making sense of the perpetual hype-cycle; being able to identify which new ideas are genuinely innovative and useful, and which are dead ends. That’s not easy.

Those of us who are old enough (sorry, I mean those of us with enough gravitas) will remember the social media gold-rush of the late-noughties, when it felt like every agency was hurriedly trying to reposition itself as a social-specialist, even though the area was still only dimly understood. At the time, there were plenty of naysayers who wanted us to believe that social media was an overhyped flash-in-the-pan that would soon be forgotten about. We all know how that played out!

What people might not remember so clearly is that, around the same time, many agencies were jumping on the Second Life bandwagon, trying to convince their clients that building a presence in this new virtual world would be essential for any forward-thinking business that wanted to stay relevant. That fad lasted about a week before everybody quietly moved on and pretended it never happened.

Since then the new ideas have been coming at us constantly, many being proclaimed as the Next Big Thing on Monday, and relegated to obscurity by Friday. It only feels like a couple of months ago that NFTs were supposed to be the future, and now suddenly nobody’s talking about them any more.

The Metaverse (2022’s answer to Second Life) had a little more staying power, thanks to a lot of large tech companies throwing their weight behind it, but even that big idea finally seems to have fallen from favor before it came close to delivering on any of the hype.

And that brings us to today’s trendy new tech, Generative AI. Admittedly, this feels a little different to all the others. Large Language Models like ChatGPT and text-to-image models like Stable Diffusion and MidJourney feel like they could be transformational and are already creating noticeable disruption across various industries. All the same, there are plenty of voices speaking out against the technology, highlighting its shortcomings, and questioning its risks and long-term usefulness.

Walking the tightrope between misplaced hype and genuine innovation, the challenge agencies face is not only to discern which technologies will have a significant lasting impact, but also to build an understanding of how to harness their potential for the benefit of clients. Generative AI has potential to disrupt the PR and marketing industry, but only if we can understand and acknowledge its limitations as well as its power. 

Staying at the forefront of innovation while avoiding wasting resources dead ends is a challenge for all agencies. How do you strike the right balance?

Perhaps the way to ensure we offer our clients the best counsel, and continue to be their trusted consultants, is to maintain a healthy skepticism and cast a forensic eye over the potential flaws of new technologies rather than simply riding the hype train until its wheels fall off.