Posts Tagged ‘Agencies’

Today I’m going to kick off a multi-part series that addresses some of the challenges facing the changing client/agency relationship, along with some solutions that clients and agencies can work together to implement. Let’s just call it – Client/Agency Therapy.

Since this is the introductory Client-Agency Therapy post, i wanted to set the stage with a few principles, disclaimers and caveats.

  1. My goal is to help clients and agencies establish better working relationships, not to bash agencies (or clients). There are plenty of agencies and clients who buck the trends, really have their acts together and should be an inspiration to their peers.
  2. We live in interesting times. We’re working in a difficult and quickly evolving business climate that has been less forgiving than in the past. We are all tasked with doing more with less. We need to cut each other a little slack sometimes and foster positive and motivating relationships that focus on improving the future rather getting hung up on past negativity. That said, due diligence should not be taken lightly, and complacency and inefficiency should not be tolerated.
  3. We must all strive to be the best at what we do and instill this characteristic in those we manage and lead; enter into relationships with the intention of a respectful partnership; and establish accountability and feedback loops that maximize business performance and ensure that expectations are being exceeded.

Here’s just a sample of some of the topics we’ll be exploring together in Client-Agency Therapy:

  • Collaboration
  • Culture alignment and culture clashes
  • Agency organization challenges
  • Client organizational challenges
  • The role of specialists and generalists
  • The vital role of process
  • The implications of efficiency, or lack thereof
  • Importance of the right marketing technologies
  • Accountability
  • How people make all the difference
  • Client expectations
  • Agency proficiency
  • A new era of procurement
  • Agility

I’m excited to address a number of topics that tend to get swept under the carpet or ignored because they are either difficult to deal with, nobody has the time to think about, or sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know. As a veteran digital agency executive who has led and sold a successful digital agency,  managed the integration into a large agency culture, and moved on to train and consult agencies and clients, including some of the largest media agencies in the world and several leading brands, I have a variety of hands on experience to speak authoritatively on these topics. However, I also have enough humility to reach out to the community and ask you to chime in and augment and debate some of my concepts and statements. In fact, I very much look forward to the intellectual discussion and journey.

I hope that Client/Agency Therapy will also spark conversation within your organizations on how to become better digital marketers and partners.


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Agencies behold! Today I ask you to look in the mirror and ask yourself one simple question.

“Are you proud and confident of your digital services, or are you faking the funk?”

If you are truly proud of your digital capabilities, feel free to stop reading now…

Over the last three years I have trained and consulted  dozens of agencies of all sizes, from the small local shop to the largest media agencies in the world. What has become clear is how easy it is to get caught up in “bright shiny object syndrome” – focusing on the latest and greatest new media platforms or trends that hits the trades. We all do it from time to time, and don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of opportunities in emerging media. However, it is important to understand that it is not the sexy emerging channels and new technology that create the base of most digital marketing programs, but rather the tried and true digital staples that have shaped the digital ecosystem up until this point in time. Funny how easy it is to forget that simple fact.

The Future (Present) Is Bright

There is no contesting the fact that there is more evolution occurring before our eyes than ever before. But there are hundreds of agencies who are still working on catching up to the curve.  These agencies should be cognizant of how easy it is to lose sight of the fundamentals in the quest to skip to the head of the line,  which does not compensate for a lack of general digital capabilities. Offering clients a social media program or talking about locations based services (LBS), or making a website optimized for the iPad might prove that you know what the newest trends are – you might even get several small projects out of it – but it will not help you drive your clients’ businesses forward in an impactful and holistic way, nor will it help secure a longer term digital relationship with your clients.

Back to Basics

Mastering the ability to plan, execute and manage “traditional” digital media and marketing programs based on clearly defined objectives is a prerequisite to venturing into the emerging media world. Granted, today social and mobile programs are leaving emerging status and becoming a standard part of the mix, but without a proficiency rooted in best practices surrounding reaching, engaging and influencing consumers, optimizing search engine discoverability, and measuring and optimizing these activities, any efforts into the emerging media world will inevitably be shallow and incomplete. Emerging media is not a replacement of traditional media, but a compliment. This is as true for TV as it is for the internet and all of its evolving sub-channels (we’ll leave newspapers out of this conversation for now). Most digital and integrated agencies make their bread and butter from “traditional digital services” – digital strategy, media planning, buying & management, search engine marketing (SEM) & search engine optimization (SEO), web development and creative, and analytics. Only then can you truly maximize the impact of emerging platforms on consumer engagement as well as agency profitability.

Making It Work

Successful agencies have established specific processes to combat the labor intensity and lower margins associated with certain aspects of providing digital services. With proficiency across the board, agencies can determine where the margins exist and how to focus on making money in a cut throat and fast paced competitive ecosystem. As clients’ digital spending increases, the ability to generate significant revenues and profit will increase accordingly. Many technologies exist to help automate and centralize specific tasks, such as ad servers for centralized ad delivery, measurement, and reporting; bid management systems for bidding and optimizing search marketing programs; social media monitoring tools for aggregating buzz, sentiment and trends within the social sphere; DSP’s and data exchanges for second channel audience buying; dynamic creative optimizers for multivariate testing of creative attributes, just to name a handful. But keep in mind that technology is merely a tool to automate mundane and inefficient tasks and facilitate human-based insight generation. Technology requires management. There is no plug and play solution – no silver bullet to replace talent and knowledge.

Challenge yourself and your team regularly. Times have changed. There is a lot to learn, and it may be the time to pay your dues all over again. Embrace pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. It’s all worth it. As the saying goes, knowledge is power.

A lack of knowledge is not a problem. However, not developing a plan to develop the knowledge, and focusing on bright shiny objects can be your downfall.

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As the shift of strategy development and stewardship continues to move into the realm of the media agencies, IPG has launched a group to manage and oversee all of the media services groups within the holding company. This move gives IPG the equivalent of WPP’s GroupM, a hub that creates efficiency through resource and information sharing. This is an essential move in this era of increasingly labor intensive, complex and collaborative client service requirements. The next step will be data systems that finally bind these units together from an analytic and insight perspective, across media. The eventual dashboards from each media services conglomerate will be the value center of the organization.

“The moves we are making today are part of an ongoing evolution in our approach to media as an increasingly strategic and high-value marketing service,” said Michael I. Roth, IPG’s Chairman and CEO. “The creation of ‘Mediabrands’ will allow our media companies to share and leverage resources, as required to meet the needs of our clients in a highly complex and rapidly-changing media landscape that’s being transformed by digital and the proliferation of content and media platforms.”…

The acquisitions and vital components of the “new agency” structure are being aggregated by each of the holding companies. So far it seems that WPP has the most momentum in the process, but ultimately this will be a focal area of competition among the agency holding company heavyweights as they aim to continue to serve the largest clients in the ecosystem.

Thank you to MediaPost for publishing a version of my “Magical Parallel Universe” rant…

Did the title of this post pique your interest? Good. This is a hot topic of conversation.

Are you a traditional marketer or agency person, or even a digital agency person who is frustrated at the new crop of “social media elite” who claim that they know all the answers? Or…are you a social media marketing maven who is frustrated that the rest of the industry just doesn’t get it?

Ok, be forewarned that this post is a little bit of a rant. I straddle both sides of this argument, but I’m equally invigorated, frustrated and amused at the state of affairs in the marketing industry today. This battle between the old guard and those who are trying to become the new guard is a repetition of history and has created more confusion than it has solved.

Does the following sound familiar to you?

Agency Person or Marketer:I’ve read a lot of research about how consumers are spending uber amounts of time in social media environments. How do I engage [or insert other descriptive verb here: tap into, leverage, reach] consumers within these environments?

Social Media Maven:OMG you used that verb? You clearly don’t understand what social media means. Let’s look into my crystal ball and I’ll give you some clues.

Agency Person or Marketer:Ok so I get the fact that social media is different, but how do I measure this? How do I understand what return I can get?

Social Media Maven: Hold me back, I think I’m gonna hurl. ROI? You actually think that I can clearly explain to you how to measure social media? You have so much to learn grasshopper.

Agency Person or Marketer: What about your clients? How are they engaging consumers in social media? Are they?

Social Media Maven: If I filled you in on all the details I’d have to kill you, sorry.

Agency Person or Marketer:But I’m running a business. I measure everything. Just because I want to measure the return of a marketing investment doesn’t make me a direct marketer. I measure my TV, I measure my online advertising, I measure our existing research projects, heck, I even measure the impact of using different materials to build our products and what it means to our business. How is social media any different?

Guys and gals I got news for you – the internet and it’s diverse sub-segments are not magical parallel universes, rather, an extension of the world we live in. Granted, social media growth is the biggest shift in “media behavior” since search (or maybe video was the next after search). But truth be told, the social media mavens are right in stating that it’s not really media at all…well, not in the way we used to look at media, as a channel to distribute messages to audiences (advertising). But that doesn’t mean that you can’t advertise in social media environments. It means that this is just one cog of a much bigger picture. Are the integrated deals on MySpace not advertising? Sure they are – yes I know, it’s marketing not advertising, but isn’t there an advertising component to it? Why do we argue that aspect of the merging of various marketing disciplines?

A Celebration of Integration
Let’s also not forget that all of this fits into the bigger picture of a multi-platform marketing communications plan. Integration with the bigger picture is a point often left out of the social media conversation, and I think that’s a big mistake. Ultimately the barrier to big agencies and brands understanding how to include social media in their marcom is simply an acquisition or the hiring of a few people who have experience. The theme of the times is centralization and integration. Clients do not want the splintering to continue. Might we take a step backwards before taking two integrated steps forward? Maybe. So be it. It’s bound to be where we will end up.

A New Discipline?
Is social media a new discipline? Maybe. It certainly represents the blurring of media, marketing, creative, technology PR and research. One of the challenges this presents is where the budgets come from and whose responsibility it is to manage. Don’t forget that 10 years or so ago many marketers were still challenged with figuring out whether their “online budgets” came from IT or marketing. We can now look back and laugh at that position. Social media will present an additional hurdle of meaning different things to different brands, based on what your brand means to the consumer. But the benefits of potentially connecting with consumers on a deeper level is huge, and truly the fact that the social media evangelists are trying to convey – observe, monitor, and listen before trying to become part of the experience or conversation.

Ode to the Old School
Agencies and brands don’t fret – you are not crazy nor are your years of marketing experience not translatable to an understanding of how to work in the social media ecosystem. Sorry if my social media brethren offer such elitist views at times. I’ve had too many discussions and overheard/observed/read too many conversations posts from bloggers and the growing “Twitterati” (who often spend more time tweeting amongst themselves than actually DOING anything) about how ten relationships are innately worth more than a million impressions. How arrogant and uninformed to think that this rule can be universally true. It all comes down to the definition of a relationship and the quality of the consumer feedback. For many marketers, this will be a factor of what their brands and businesses mean to consumers. Social media becomes a valuable feedback loop or research base for some brands, and for others it’s insignificant. Yeah I said it – social media can be insignificant for many brands. Are a small group of influencers truly worth that much more than the masses of followers who can be reached via many means? The majority of your brand’s consumers and potential customers will never interact with you nor the posts of the influencers within social media. Deal with it. Those evangelizing social media are all vying for the same clients. The largest brands with the strongest brand personality, the brands that consumers are already proud to be associated with, who stand the most to lose or gain by working within or ignoring social media. The other day an industry colleague, Alan Wolk, referred to these brands quite accurately as “Prom King brands”, I’d recommend reading the Ad Week article here.

Research, PR, Damage Control
Social media as a research lab? Sure, go for it – but the value is relative to the investment and commitment to striking a balance between an authentic experience to the consumer and to providing benefit to the brand. So maybe the question marketers should be asking is not how to use social media, but how much to invest, which again, is a function of how consumers perceive our brands and what social media means to THEM – not to US. No matter how hard we try to be consumer centric, it seems that it always comes back to that being a bigger buzz-phrase than any other. So social media as a research lab seems like a good starting point for any brand.

While it’s great to see brands create new social media extensions to monitor and deal with consumers’ feedback and complaints, don’t forget that you can’t please all the people all the time. Any researcher would largely discount the feedback of the polar ends of positive and negative opinion, which does not represent the market as a whole. This is not to say ignore the customer. It only means that you must manage investment in the polar ends of opinion.

All Roads Lead to Rome
Seriously guys – we shouldn’t worry about measuring investment return? If I hear that one more time, I’m going to get sick. The purpose of all marketing investments is the same. To sell stuff. The only difference between disciplines is where in the influence and decision cycle the investment impacts consumers and how easy or difficult it is to measure the potential impact. No marketing investment is made for fun, whether branding, direct response, relationship marketing, research, PR, social media or otherwise.

I promised a bit of a rant here, so there you have it. I’m frustrated that some of us make it so complicated for agencies and marketers to try to understand rather than working hand in hand to play nicely in the sandbox, experiment further and keep the consumer as the focal point of our decision making process. Agree, disagree? Have some great case studies you want to share? Connect with me on Twitter: @JasonDPG or on Facebook. Hey look ma, I’m using social media!

Google TV is now out of Betaand pulicly accessible.

Although not embraced to the degree they expected during the beta itself (my old agency’s TV buyers scratched their heads at it), this does offer the potential to create a marketplace similar to that of search, although the media dynamics are altogether different and the inventory is currently limited only to DISH. Media marketplaces represent a level of automation that commoditizes certain low value aspects of the buying & selling process that are labor intensive and erodes margins – it’s part of the future. Google TV merely sets a precedent on what is possible – trust me they are not the only ones attempting to create and automate a TV buying marketplace. Agencies have however been watching Google move into areas beyond their home turf, so to speak, and some of getting nervous.

I mentioned previously that in 2007 Martin Sorrell, chairman of WPP has referenced Google when discussing the competitive climate in the industry more often than he publicly discussed other agency holding companies such as Omnicom, or IPG. WPP also acquired or made investments in many media/technology companies in the last year or so, hedging their bets on a potential competitive suite of tools and products? Or simply diversifying a portfolio of complimentary companies to keep a level of spending under the same umbrella? Only time will tell.

Agencies are further recognizing the need for a new model, but still haven’t done much but talk about it. The AAAA’s leadership conference kicked off last week and the NY Times even covered the bold statements from the speakers. I’ll just pull a few quotes from the piece:

Strap on your seat belts,” “All these challenges will no doubt put a strain on all our organizations,”  “Every one of us will be re-engineering and re-inventing, but the end result will be a positive one.” – Irwin Gottlieb, Group M

“Stop whining,” “shouldn’t be scary,” “a huge opportunity for us” “If you want to participate, you’ve got to start hiring young people,”  “and don’t tell them what to do — ask them what to do.” – Lee Clow, TBWA Worldwide

“The system worked well for 40, 50 years,” “Now we have to think differently and do each other’s jobs.” – Ben Silverman, NBC/Universal

“Create new opportunities for advertisers and new opportunities for information.” “The scale of this is underappreciated.” – Eric Schmidt, Google

You gotta love how Eric Schmidt seems to be the only one focused on data and information – in my humble opinion that is what it’s all about – he who has the most data (and knows what to do with it), wins.

The media agency and holding company portfolio landscape is changing before our eyes.

I’ve said it many times before – the competitive necessity for agencies to offer a more complete suite of services, or collaborate to do so is paramount to the success of the agency and the clients they service. The shift of importance to the media agency over the last 5 years or so has created an awkward situation for the holding companies, who are essentially managing a portfolio of complimentary agencies. The shifting nexus that once laid firmly with the full service creative shops has slowly moved to the media agencies, creating a new level of competitive issues for the holding companies.

The most recent announcement of MindShare Interaction, the digital arm of the largest media group in the world (MindShare/Group M), is the latest in a string of quiet agency evolution that first included the introduction of creative and technology services into the digital media agencies, and now has spawned traditional creative services as well, infringing on what has historically been the coveted ‘meat & potatoes’ of the full service shops. From online creative & web development, to TV production and branded entertainment, the media agencies are poised for catapulting success for one main reason – their Datanomic position.

Marrying this more complete service offering with the application of data analytics is the key to creating efficiency and effectiveness for clients. The scale of the agency and therefore the scale of aggregate data and subsequent insight generated, combined with a complete ability to execute, is (in my humble opinion) the holy grail we’ve been waiting for – or at least the beginning of it. Every campaign is only as strong as its weakest link. In this new media age, he who lacks the ability to apply deep sets of data at all levels of the organization and agency processes becomes the weakest link.