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January 17, 2024

Generative AI and the Future of Digital Agencies

Generative AI is everywhere today between the Pope showing up on Twitter wearing runway fashion and new singles by robot pop superstars going viral. 

It feels like these tools showed up overnight. But really, for the past six-seven years, AI has been impacting our lives – just in less noticeable ways. The perceived impact is even more dramatic right now because of other things happening at the same time: the changes in the workplace caused by COVID with remote and hybrid work becoming the norm in a lot of industries; and talk of a recession in the media (which may or may not happen). Everyone is wondering: Is this the end of work as we know it?

As someone who embraces change and who is always using technology to find efficiencies, I see AI more as a promise than a threat. But I’m also always curious about how new technologies impact digital agencies specifically, so I wanted to talk to one of the leading experts on that subject, JP Holecka, CEO and founder of Power Shifter Digital, based in Vancouver, Canada.

In addition to running Power Shifter Digital, an agency that specializes in all things digital (mobile apps, web apps, websites, etc.), JP has been working with generative AI for a while – long enough, he says, to be “slightly” ahead – and sharing with agency communities what he’s learning about opportunities and threats. 

We sat down to talk about what he thinks digital agencies need to know about generative AI, the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

Here’s what I learned.

Value-Based Pricing Is More Important than Ever

What happens to an hourly rate when AI makes everything 10x faster? Or when tasks that used to take days can now be completed in seconds? How do you fill your pipeline to account for the fact that a 1,000-hour job now takes 100? 

Playing a high-volume game has never been great for an agency that wants to keep its quality up and its people happy. 

One way for agencies to handle this, JP suggests, is to position themselves as the experts who get things done – regardless of how long it takes. Part of creating this value-based narrative means inverting how people perceive speed – not as a sign of low quality but of high value. 

“There will be a new niche that is the super AI agency that gets you to market faster,” JP says. “It’s a lot like a rush fee for traditional print materials. It’s a premium, not a discount.”

What Distinguishes Work on the ‘Average’ Internet?

The SEO arms race will only intensify in the coming years – and a lot of creators will be asking themselves if the value of one great piece of human-generated content is worth more than the value of 10 average pieces of bot-generated content. 

To survive, every digital agency will have to answer the question, “What’s your secret sauce?” Is it the people? The relationships? The way you combine speed and quality by developing a workflow with humans at the beginning and the end of the process with AI leveraged in the middle? 

The best digital agencies will be the ones who are not afraid to experiment – and to include their clients, openly, in the experimentation. Since no one really knows what’s possible, there’s an opportunity to propose some hypotheses and test them out. For those agencies willing to take a leap of faith, there will be clients who are more interested in going along for the ride than in guaranteeing a certain outcome. 

One caveat: Don’t put anything confidential into ChatGPT or other generative-AI programs. The programs are still learning, and it’s not totally clear what happens to everything you put in there.

Beyond Content Generation

Social media content has gotten a lot of attention recently, with people asking: How fast can AI write our posts? How good an image can it call up? 

But JP says it’s got way more tricks up its sleeve. 

For example, he input a fictional business concept with a value proposition, and AI was able to produce names, taglines, logos and brochures – within a few minutes. “It got about 80% there,” JP said, “Then you can go and do the sweetening on top.” 

In addition to branding work, JP also tried generative AI for interview screenings – comparing a job description and a candidate’s resume or cover letter (CV). He wrote a prompt, ‘You are a recruiter at a digital agency. At first blush, based on what you see from this CV, do you see them being a good fit for this role?’ Now you still need to interview, but it saves 15 minutes per CV before going through the interview, just even look at it.” 

Generative AI helped JP test another important HR function – writing bias-free job ads: In addition to screening for things like gender and racial bias, it can look for things like location bias (for in-person versus remote jobs). 

It’s such early days of the technology that JP’s best advice is just to play around with it with an open mind to see what it can do for you.

Less Mining, More Crafting 

Talking with JP, I got the feeling that digital agencies could experience something similar to the financial services industry. With the invention of programs like QuickBooks and all the highly developed dashboards and spreadsheets, clean, sophisticated financials are table-stakes. The high-value clients expect you to get that taken care of as efficiently as possible, so you can interpret the data, see what story it tells and strategize how to get where you want to go. 

Maybe there will be jobs going away a little bit. But, the way I look at it, you take a creator and make them a reviewer. Their job changes in terms of dynamics, with what they’re trying to create: They become the editor. The work will still be there, there’s just a different emphasis and different skill sets. We’re going to need higher level thinkers versus lower-level doers. 

JP compared it to the difference of miners going down into a mine to extract coal versus being able to do the extraction with conveyor belts and tools – more people start working at the top than at the bottom. The “extraction,” the creation of the bulk of things, can be done more accurately and faster. Then the creativity, the spark, the bigger ideas – “we can deliver even better because the arduous work has been done for us.” 

Bottomline: For agencies that think strategically, leverage technology, and find new ways to differentiate themselves, there’s plenty of upside.

Interested in learning more about how AI can impact agency life? 

Check out: 

Episode 90 of the Virtual CPA Success Show, AI’s Influence on Agencies: Disruption or Enhancement?, with JP Holecka

Episode 105 of the Virtual CPA Success Show, The Future of AI: Balancing Innovation and Ethical Considerations with Shanif Dhanani

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