Author: Chris Evans, Vice President of Media

Lane Closure on the Super Information Highway

So, one guy in Michigan has caused 250+ brands to pause spending on YouTube, and he, ironically, has a patent to fix the issue if Google will buy it.

As news started to break two weeks ago about advertisements showing up next to hate groups and videos promoting terrorism, big brands like General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon and Walmart have been quick to jump on the PR train and state that they’re pausing all YouTube spend until a fix is developed. There have been countless articles detailing all the happenings, pointing fingers, talking about the end of digital advertising as we know it, saying the entire approach is wrong and how to fix it.

Is this an issue? Yes, without a doubt. Should your agency and media partners be doing everything they can to stop this from happening? Yes, without a doubt. Does the issue run deeper than YouTube? Yes, without a doubt. Is this getting overblown in the always-on news cycle? Yes, without a doubt.

To understand the scale of YouTube, think about these stats:

  1. More than 1 billion people around the world – roughly a third of all people online – are YouTube users.
  2. YouTube is the second largest search engine, bigger than Bing, Yahoo!, Ask and AOL combined.
  3. According to eMarketer, 180 million of those people are from the U.S.
  4. 400 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  5. The average user session is 40 minutes.

Anytime you run ads on a website that’s full of user-generated content, it comes with a certain level of risk. Realistically, the problem runs much deeper than YouTube and is more of an online problem, although TV, radio and print have all had their fair share of ads being pulled over the years. The majority of digital ads are bought against an audience, not specific sites. Therefore, you’re opening yourself up to run on millions of channels or sites in order to deliver an ad to “adults 25-54 who drive a Cadillac, use Crest and have a dog.” According to an article in The New York Times, Chase Bank had been running on 400,000 sites. Clearly an unmanageable amount for anyone to monitor; hence, the need for technology to help classify those sites and the content on them. That’s where these digital filters come into play. Platforms like YouTube have tools in place to allow you or your agency to apply a certain level of brand safety, such as to blacklisting/whitelisting sites; excluding adult content; and now, thanks to our political system, you can block “FAKE NEWS” sites. While it’s the accuracy of these very tools that is being called into question, you should always go beyond them to ensure brand safety. If you don’t, it’s as if you’re allowing them to grade their own homework.

We at R&R Partners have longstanding partnerships with third-party verification experts such as DoubleVerify. We routinely layer on additional safety measures to not only ensure our clients’ ads are being seen, but also to safeguard against questionable content coming into play. Now, more than ever, marketers need advanced technologies to identify and protect against unsafe environments while confirming they’re targeting [human] audiences in order to deliver reliable and effective campaigns. While we do monitor our clients’ online campaigns on a regular basis, we also push for 100 percent transparency from our partners and, in turn, we’re 100 percent transparent with our clients. It’s safe to say nothing in the digital space will ever be perfect. However, we are confident in our approach, always investigating new technology and applying those learnings in real time to our clients’ business. We’ve taken a deep dive into both our largest and smallest YouTube campaigns and worked directly with Google and have yet to find any instances of ads running against this negative content.

Again, this goes far beyond YouTube, even into TV. However, they’re just the 800-pound gorilla, so they’re rightfully getting the brunt of the backlash. Just the other day, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai announced they are pulling ads from The O’Reilly Factor due to sexual harassment claims and settlement payments totaling $13 million. This has now expanded to over 30 brands.

So, to the guy in Michigan, I say, “Thank you.” Thank you for bringing an issue into the limelight and continuing to push our industry forward. We all must demand transparency and brand safe environments on behalf of our clients. Simply put, if you won’t be 100 percent transparent and open about your technology and ensure brand safety, you shouldn’t be on anyone’s media plan. It’s our responsibility as agencies to ensure that the tech platforms we partner with are built on these same standards.

Our approach is simple − build the brand and protect the brand.

Winner, Winner Cynopsis Star Dinner

While winning awards in communications marketing is usually a team effort, there are awards out there that more than deservedly shine the spotlight on one specific person. That standout is our own Kris Cichoski, R&R’s digital associate media director, who was recently named a winner in the 2016 Cynopsis Rising Star Awards. This awards program is meant to recognize the best and brightest rising media stars in the ad industry. Way to shine, Kris!

 


Nielsen VR Study

Selling Vegas in a new reality.

If you build it, they will come. One of the great lines in movie history is a nice fit with our VR efforts over the past year. The team at R&R Partners has been busy developing virtual reality content for our Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) client at an exhaustive rate, while consumers ate up the experience.

And while industry professionals have recognized our latest efforts in marketing the destination, most recently, the research community has taken notice. Early in 2016, we were approached by YuMe, a global audience technology company that was interested in using our VR content for a study being commissioned with Nielsen. The study was a neuroscience-informed research report based around emotional engagement across mobile VR and 360 video as compared to TV. Nielsen’s neuroscience team studied 150 people as they consumed VR content from Las Vegas and Disney across these three platforms.

The results were great and provided much needed insight for our industry on a new platform. Not only will this study help R&R Partners keep delivering impactful content, it will give guidance to the entire advertising industry.

A few of the key findings include:


  1. Likeability is higher for VR and 360 video.

 


  1. Guided exploration is key for brands and consumers.

 


  1. Emotional engagement in VR is up to 34 percent longer compared to 2-D.

Media Tailgate: A Celebration of Partnerships

We have a simple belief here at R&R Partners in that anyone from the sales community is not a rep or a vendor, but rather a partner—a partner of our agency, our team, our clients. Someone who is committed to winning on behalf of our clients just as much as we are. R&R Partners is well-known as a close-knit family, and our media partners, near and far, are a big part of that family.

Our culture and communications manager, Sean Suggs, said it best, “Honestly, our employees, partners, clients and media partners are part of the R&R ‘Partners’ family. There’s no distinction between the groups. This brand of inclusiveness is evident in all of our core values, but especially candor, vigilance, respect and loyalty.” It’s this belief that was instilled in the media team long ago by group managing director, Fletcher Whitwell, and it’s one that is still front and center today.

Eleven years ago, an idea was born to celebrate our partners. Every year around the start of football season, the media team throws its annual Media Tailgate Party. We invite our partners in for an afternoon of food, beverages and a whole lot of fun, including chicken-wing eating contests, inflatable sports games, raffle prizes and, most importantly, to show our appreciation.

It’s this simple gesture that is often missing in today’s cutthroat world of advertising, but it’s one that can help push everyone forward, to work a little harder and to be all-in on the project at hand. So, to our partners around the world, on behalf of the R&R family, I say THANK YOU!

 

Media Tailgate 2015

Will Your Agency Survive in Modern Times?

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.

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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:

  1. The three departments you need to keep happy are finance, legal and procurement.
  2. When it comes to social media for a brand, always think: would we, should we, could we.
  3. When pitching your agency, lay off the smoke and mirrors and bring more substance.
  4. Understand the business and category that you’re pitching.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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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.

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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:

  1. Storytelling
  2. Story selling
  3. 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:

  1. “We will never solve anything being on common ground, be on higher ground.”
  2. “Don’t spend another second being average at what you’re bad at; spend your time being great at what your good at.”
  3. “Marry the doers and the dreamers at work, great things will happen.”
  4. “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.

  1. Get enterprise involvement from your clients; be OK with the c-suite and various department heads sitting in your marketing meetings.
  2. Operate as a solutions integrator, because if agencies can’t, consultants will.
  3. Stop with the hyperbole; clients hire us to produce outcomes, not buzzwords.
  4. Don’t separate advertising from the full customer experience. They need to inform each other.
  5. Know the consumer; insights without audiences are in-actionable.
  6. Hire nontraditional agency talent to breathe life into your organization.
  7. 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

THE AGENCY MODEL: EVER EVOLVING AND STILL THE SAME

The most recent iMedia Agency Summit focused on the agency model of the future. This tends to be an ever evolving debate in an ever changing marketing universe. Do you specialize in one area? Be all things to all people? Partner with other shops or go it alone? With the rise of procurement departments at the same time as programmatic solutions that promise efficiencies, there seems no better time to have this conversation. 

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AGENCY ONLY DAY

This conference always kicks off with a special day dedicated solely to agency folks. Most everybody in the room is a Director or higher, from agency’s owned by holding companies down to 10 person independents. The basis of the day is to have an open and honest conversation about this great industry in regards to the conference topic. 

Once again this day did not disappoint, you could feel the passion among these agency leaders which lead to some spirited conversations and great learning. One area of concern in the ad community continues to be training for staff and finding the right talent. While a number of folks resorted to the usual comments such as, “we don’t have time” and “we run so thin, it’s sink or swim”, a handful of people had some great solutions. One that stood out was an agency’s no interview rule. They simply have a handful of people come in with each getting pared up with a mentor and begin working. Every 4 hours the mentor checks in with the department head and makes the decision to keep going or cut bait, eventually landing on one candidate. They are in a sense looking at two things, how does this person fit within our culture and what is their work product like?

Next up was a great conversation with Jon Raj from Cello Partners, discussing the agency search process and what brands are looking for and saying. Turns out it’s a little of everything. You have Best Buy and other brands moving away from the standard AOR model and going towards project work. You have more and more brands embracing independent agencies that display great thinking, along with a certain level of trustworthiness. Two things that can get lost at times. The bottom line: build trust, be transparent and collaborate internally to bring great ideas forward.

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EVOLVE OR DIE

The theme over the next two days focused mainly on evolving the agency model and the ways in which we target consumers. Lots of insight from the clients in attendance continued to focus on building trust, bringing good ideas forward and providing real insights, not just data. One quote in particular stood out, “the difference between agencies is declining, so it’s not what I require but more about how you can solve my business needs”.

In terms of building out your agency team with focus on specialty areas, some agency leaders found it hard to grow the knowledge while maintaining the current level of work. The solution in these cases centered on finding a niche agency, buying them and folding it into the current shop. The main concern in these cases was clashing cultures and how to mold together. The consensus was to include more people in the process and get them working together early, before a deal is even done to ensure a cohesive environment.

The other big discussion revolved around Millennials and Gen Z and how they will not only impact the marketing business but also from a consumer standpoint. Ann Mack, the Director of Global Content and Consumer Insights for Facebook was on hand to present a recent study on these two groups. The results were very telling of how the industry is, but still needs to shift in terms of thinking and engagement. The top three areas of focus for these two groups were Family, Friends and Music. It was also noted that online has surpassed the mall for places teens hangout. FOBO (Fear of Being Offline) is the new FOMO, and it’s a real thing that’s not going away, especially with the digital first world we now live in.

We as marketers need to evolve the way in which we operate our businesses and think more from a digital first mindset. We can’t simply apply old techniques to new technology. You must embrace digital, stop supporting silos and invest in vision. Those who do will continue to build trust and thrive.