Times are economically hard, there's no doubt about that but feel for the poor salesman in digital media who is going to get it in the neck worse than most in an unsung revolution that's taking place. Digital is leading the way in the automation of trading platforms (although all media are thinking about it), something started by Google with the inception of Adwords a few years back.
Search has gone completely self service with all engines allowing, in fact forcing, you to use their tools to run your campaigns rather than pick up the phone to them. Google even went so far as to offer short term incentives (Best Practice Funding) to increase agencies competence in the self service approach and ironically have paved the way for the acceptance of this type of trading in display now as well as search.
For media owners it makes a lot of sense, account managers can handle much larger volumes of transactions, won't make as many mistakes, admin is cut hugely and the automation is generally founded on some sort of targeting technology making inventory work harder and therefore more valuable. For good measure the buying model inevitably moves to an auction to achieve optimum pricing for media owners and buyers.
Two sets of media owners on the display side are now moving forward with self service interfaces which are going to change the way things are done on this side of the market. The big social networks, working out how to monetise their inventory better have both released self service interfaces, initially to appeal to smaller advertisers and monetise the long tail whilst the long awaited media exchanges are starting to make moves over from the US where they already have huge critical mass.
There are two overriding implications for the agencies; the first is macro level in terms of market dynamics. A small agency will be able to deliver the same pricing as a network agency as, similar to PPC, it's all auction based. So then if noone can be bigger, you have to be better. However on a micro level, each of these new systems requires skilled people to push the buttons and in our experience the larger you are, the longer it takes to adopt new systems.
So, as always happens when new technologies and ways of doing things emerge, there will be gaps to be exploited and before this particular revolution is finished there will be a new set of household names.