I recently had the good fortune to attend and speak at the iMedia Agency Summit in Lost Pines, Texas. It was here in the vast back country land outside Austin that a few hundred agency executives and media sellers joined forces for four days of discussion centered on this question. The conference was billed as “The Modern Agency’s Survival Guide” with the topics centered on “who manages what” in the blurred landscape that is today’s ad industry.
Kicking things off Sunday morning was an agency-only, all-day session geared toward getting agency executives in a room to discuss current-day issues that we’re all facing. As part of this, we had a guest speaker from a large national drug store chain join us. Bringing both agencyside and clientside experience, he gave some straight talk on what clients are looking for. His talk focused on a few things:
- The three departments you need to keep happy are finance, legal and procurement.
- When it comes to social media for a brand, always think: would we, should we, could we.
- When pitching your agency, lay off the smoke and mirrors and bring more substance.
- Understand the business and category that you’re pitching.
- Independent agencies have a shot at large clients; just don’t fight the same battle as the holding companies. They have more offices, a larger global network and just as many big ideas. Instead, push your value proposition when it comes to billing − various models (commission, fee, hourly, project, etc.) − smaller markets plus cheaper rent/salaries equals more dollars for advertising.
- Data is important, but don’t die by Infobesity. Focus on what matters.
Next up was a chat on the always hot topic of training. It’s something that large and small agencies seem to struggle with. The main issues revolve around not having enough time to implement a structured training program, slim margins dictating overloaded employees, and who is going to do it. This one has always shocked me in that your agency is only as good as the employees, so why wouldn’t you take the time to train, either in-house or with seminars/conferences? I’m proud to say that the ownership at R&R Partners are firm believers in training and continued education. I shared a few examples of our rrMIT media classes and Superstar program and people were amazed, and I’d like to think envious of what we have built around this topic.
Day two started with a great panel discussion led by industry veteran John Durham @thedurham. He navigated a great talk with agency CMOs from SapientNitro, Rockfish and MRY. Lots of great thoughts emerged on the consulting companies like Accenture and Deloitte getting into the agency business over the last few years. These guys already have an established line of communication into the C-Suite and now they are buying agencies as if completing a checklist, offering a one-stop shop for clients. The next frontier in my opinion will be the move to start buying data companies and trading desks, effectively making advertising a commodity and devaluing good creative along the way.
The discussion shifted to the disrupters who are making waves among the Fortune 500, companies like Uber and AirBnB who are new to the game and have a different business completely from the legacy models. The largest companies in the world will need to continue to evolve, constantly shed their old skin, and embrace the new landscape as Silicon Valley is not going anywhere.
After a few more sessions, it was time for the one-on-one meetings. Think speed dating for agencies and publishers. I had 10 sessions, each lasting 10 minutes, all back to back. Don’t be too jealous! My goal with these meetings was to focus the majority of them on companies that we have not worked with in the past, allowing for new opportunities to blossom. While you can’t get too in-depth, you can get a great understanding of their offering and know right away if it makes sense to continue the conversation once you’re back in the office. Lots of focus this year on the DSP/DMP (demand-side platform/data management platform) model, which screams a sea of sameness, although a few stood out, especially with ingesting real-time social data to bring better insights to your buys.
Day three started off with a great presentation from Susan Borst @susanborst with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Susan focused on native and ad blocking, both hot topics these days. It’s interesting to see the industry say native is the answer to ad blocking, and yet a few months later reverse course and say the opposite. Both are areas that are evolving before us, with a little help from the FTC who has issued guidelines, in addition to the IAB. With consumers seemingly wanting more content and brands willing to provide it, native opportunities will only continue to grow and blur the lines between advertisement and editorial. Susan boiled native down into three areas:
- Story selling
- Just selling
Next up was Roy Spence, co-founder and partner of GSD&M. Roy gave a freewheeling, energetic, off-the-cuff speech titled “The Power of Purpose in Business and Life.” He drew on life experiences from starting his agency to current day. One of the better stories was the time he met with Sam Walton to pitch Walmart. Roy went alone to the pitch and when asked by Sam where the rest of his team was, he got nervous and just said, “One riot, one sheriff, what’s your problem.” Mr. Walton liked it so much, he hired him on the spot. While a great story, certainly not something that would happen today.
A few great quotes from Roy’s speech that stood out to me include:
- “We will never solve anything being on common ground, be on higher ground.”
- “Don’t spend another second being average at what you’re bad at; spend your time being great at what your good at.”
- “Marry the doers and the dreamers at work, great things will happen.”
- “We are uninvited guests in people’s lives; make it count.”
While a tough act to follow, the presentations shifted to mobile marketing with a focus on your intentions. Jeff Malmad @1od, head of mobile at Mindshare, along with Dan Brough @danielbrough, head of agency business at Waze, took us into this space. The biggest thing that stood out to me was the conversation around new demographics, with the question being, “Are content and intent the new demographics that we as an industry should be looking at? Does age really matter or should we be looking at behaviors?” While I would argue that it’s important to have a core demo, it’s becoming just as important to look beyond your core audience and find various niche targets that only social data can show you. Where else do your clients have opportunity to grow their business?
Wrapping up the large presentations was the CEO of Epsilon, Andy Frawley @AndyFrawleyCEO. Andy spoke about the industry having an identity crisis and what the agency model of the future is. Epsilon is considered a “new agency model,” or maybe better yet, a faux agency. Starting in data and email, it has added other disciplines, such as creative and media, by snatching up smaller shops as if they were on a grocery store checklist. Andy’s speech was highlighted by seven points.
- Get enterprise involvement from your clients; be OK with the c-suite and various department heads sitting in your marketing meetings.
- Operate as a solutions integrator, because if agencies can’t, consultants will.
- Stop with the hyperbole; clients hire us to produce outcomes, not buzzwords.
- Don’t separate advertising from the full customer experience. They need to inform each other.
- Know the consumer; insights without audiences are in-actionable.
- Hire nontraditional agency talent to breathe life into your organization.
- Learn how to build IP, but don’t destroy creativity.
After I moderated a panel on finding and retaining talent, it left me with one last round of 10 rep meetings to close things out. All in all, the conference was great for two reasons. First, it’s a gathering of truly smart people who are happy to discuss any industry topic. You can’t help but come away feeling energized and a lot smarter. Second, it really showed me that we at R&R Partners are moving in the right direction. From training, to culture to our work, we not only can compete with anyone, but we are often light-years ahead of other agencies when it comes to these areas, including the big guys.
Photo credit to Julian Haber Photography