Image by Emily van den Heever via thenounproject.com.

Image by Emily van den Heever via thenounproject.com.

There’s a global secret society of agency executives. It’s an organization that flies under the radar of ad clubs, marketing associations and agency roundtables.

This association has been around since 1936. It’s the Skull and Bones of the advertising world. It’s called TAAN Worldwide and today it’s run by Peter Gerritsen (yes, THAT Gerritsen – from Allen & Gerritsen).

One of this year’s global events was held in a remote Austrian hamlet called Saalbach-Hinterglemm. (All good, cryptic fraternities meet in out-of-the-way European ski villages – haven’t you ever seen a Bond movie?)

Having run an agency for eleven years, I was never invited to join this secret society. But after writing a book read by one of the executive organizers, I was asked to attend and even present to this illustrious group.

At the event, I was introduced to Hinterglemmer Tea (tea, schnapps and rum), nighttime sledding and Bachforellenfillet (an Austrian brook trout). I was also introduced to the agency of the future.

Saalbach-Hinterglemm

The secret conference was held in the tiny Austrian hamlet, Saalbach-Hinterglemm. Image by Andrew Davis.

The agency of the future revealed

TAAN Worldwide members are required to reveal the secrets to their success (and the challenges they face) in the marketplace.

Every attendee signs a confidentiality agreement threatening legal action should they violate the terms of their membership and reveal another member’s secrets. This guarantees the kind of open, honest discussion that made it one of the most valuable events I’ve ever attended.

Early on the first day, one agency (we’ll call it FutureX) revealed an unbelievably powerful growth strategy that’s building its business. FutureX has started building the agency of the future.

While I’m unable to reveal the specifics of its new structure, I have been granted permission to reveal the three keys to its growth:

Own an audience

FutureX leverages the audiences (customers) of its collective client base to market the products and services of each individual client.

Essentially, FutureX offers each client the ability to use the Facebook fans, Twitter followers, Instagrammers and Youtubers of other brands in its portfolio to drive new business.

The content the agency promotes across brands must be relevant to the audience they’re serving, it must be valuable to the brand who owns the audience, and it must drive engagement for both partners.

FutureX has bypassed media buyers and traditional media to drive value, engagement and new business through its aggregate audience. (The agency is also seeing a tidy profit generated from selling access to its brandscaped audience.)

Agencies of the future will act more like media companies to create and own audiences. Image via Flickr.

Agencies of the future will act more like media companies to create and own audiences. Image via Flickr.

Be a talent agent

Not only is FutureX leveraging the audiences of its existing clients, but it’s targeting and recruiting online content creators (talent) who authentically embrace multiple brands in its portfolio.

The team at FutureX understands that the future of branding is human and that leveraging content creators with an existing audience benefits the clients it serves.

Think like a media company

Instead of buying access to an audience through traditional media brands or purchasing inauthentic celebrity endorsements, FutureX is actually building its own media company, except it’s building it backwards.

It’s only a matter of time before FutureX (and the other agencies of the future) starts leveraging the talent it has assembled, the content that talent is creating, and the brands the agency represents to build self-sustaining media brands that attract an audience all its own.

The agency of the future will compete directly with the media brands it once worked closely with.

Without getting into specifics, I can tell you that FutureX is even publishing custom magazines (yes, print magazines) and delivering them to consumers in niche markets to drive deep brand engagement and increase consumer spending in specific categories.

International agencies and the leapfrog opportunity

I can tell you that agencies from Brazil, Romania, Russia, France, Germany, Austria, Poland, Lithuania, Sweden, the Netherlands and Singapore (just to name a few) contributed some of the most interesting ideas and insight to the event. FutureX is from one of those nations.

Here’s the thing: All of these agencies thought they were lagging behind North American agencies. They were wrong. While most of these agencies are currently executing strategies North Americans invested in five years ago, the strategies they’re building today are much more sophisticated than those in North America.

These agencies are leapfrogging all the problems American agencies wrestled with in the past and they’re building the agency of the future. Are you?