LONDON — Technology, from social media to programmatic ad buying, has made agencies more lazy, said Lenovo worldwide executive brand director Jo Moore at the inaugural One Question conference in London yesterday.

Moore made the comment during a session that explored how agencies are marrying technology with creativity. "Agencies have got lazy because of technology," she said, adding that the "core skills of strategic understanding and insight and creativity" are being overlooked.

Moore's view, that technology is "getting in the way of creativity", was supported by other members of the panel. WCRS head of digital strategy Matt Rhodes noted that technology is making agencies "super-lazy in your creativity."

"The world is flooded with really bad display advertising," said Rhodes. "Creative agencies churn it out and media agencies buy it. The challenge there is this assumption that technology solves problems and is connecting brands with consumers. I think it’s rubbish. I think it’s the idea that connects brands with humans. We can over-egg the role technology can play."

H+K Strategies content and publishing director Vikki Chowney pointed to Cadbury's use of QR codes on their packaging as an example of technology that served little effective purpose, despite the strong idea behind its 'snackable joy' campaign

Instead, added Rhodes, agencies remain challenged by the need to transform their skills and behaviour because of rapid technological changes, even as they try to integrate digital into their broader offering.

"One of the challenges we see in the agency landscape at the moment, despite more digital agencies moving into larger agencies, you see still a lot of segmentation," he said. "The real agency challenge is up-skilling. And that’s hard to do when you have people with 25 years of amazing award wins for print ads."

Chowney noted that this challenge is particularly acute at larger, publicly-held agencies, rather than "small, nimble, fast start-ups."

Chowney pointed to London firm Battenhall as an example of an agency that has been built with technology at its core. "[Battenhall founder] Drew Benvie gives £1000 to each starter to go out and buy the technology they need," she said. "For me at a WPP agency, I can’t do that."

For Moore at Lenovo, the solution to this quandary currently lies in enlisting a portfolio of agencies, from "mega-global, big agencies" to "tiny, small, creative startups that build stuff themselves."

"The challenge for the bigger, more traditional agencies are just different," she said. "[Technology] is having a big impact on what the agency model is. The enlightened client has a suite of different agencies."  

iProspect UK chief strategy and analytics officer Jack Swayne pointed out that technology does allow campaigns to deliver greater personalisation, enabling better connections with people as expectations of brands rise.

"The biggest challenge within an agency environment is relying on technology to do too much," countered Rhodes. "The biggest danger is the simple things. Stopping you thinking instead of thinking more. Because technology makes it easier to hear everything consumers are saying about toothpaste."