For years, the relationship between the chief marketing head and its ad agency was the most important one. The ad agency had something that the client didn't have and wanted: expert insight into the consumer and the creative magic to build a brand. These were crucial ingredients to winning consumers and market share.
Early on in my career, I was lucky to be the media director at Colenso working on the Toyota account. The agency helped make Toyota the top-selling car brand in the country with its Crumpy and Scottie spots for Hilux, a stream of memorable All New Corolla launches and the iconic Welcome to Our World campaign in the 1990s. Bob Field, Toyota New Zealand's managing director, and Alistair Davies, then head of marketing (now CEO), leaned on the creative genius and eccentricities of Len Potts and Chris Martin to conjure up the next winning campaign.
Then, something happened.
Advertising became less influential.
Other brands caught up and became just as creative. Mass media fragmented. Pricing and promotion became more prominent. Digital changed shopping dynamics. Data and personalisation became increasingly important. And the ad agency lost ground as the lead marketing partner.
Don't get me wrong, ad agencies remain an important cog in the marketing machine. But the point is they've become a cog. And along with the PR, direct, media, digital, social and events agencies are being challenged to stay as valuable.
Reading through the pages of NZ Marketing these past few years, it very much feels like every player on the agency side is attempting to re-invent themselves as the agency of the future.
So what does the next agency of the future look like?
Look and learn
From where I'm sitting, there's a tonne we can learn from media companies.
The media have led the way in how they’ve digitised, socialised and personalised their content.
In the US, where I've been working this last decade, it’s the media companies that have evolved the furthest when it comes to staying in touch with and talking to consumers.
The media occupy an intersection where entertainment meets popular culture and technology. We seem to be obsessed with The Bachelor, dismayed at the latest Donald Trump episode or humoured by Steven Adams’ memes that fill our newsfeed. And we are accessing this diet of media on 65” LCD panels all the way down to a pocket-sized device.
Another thing media companies have going for them is that they own a rich source of insight into consumers.
One of my most valuable sources in getting in the heads of Millennials and, more recently, those in Generation Z is from the programming director at MTV. He makes it the organisation's mission to keep a finger on the pulse of young teens. Stephen Friedman, its network president is obsessed with adapting their programming slate by not just capturing those insights but in many cases anticipating the trends.
One of my clients L’Oréal would host editors of the major magazine titles each year to get their take on beauty and fashion trends. Unilever's CEO and senior management team regularly travel to Silicon Valley and to Hollywood to help them re-think their own approach to digital and entertainment.
What's more is that media data has never been more precise and actionable.
Media companies are collecting an enormous bank of data on their audiences. Those audiences are your customers. Google right now is using GPS data on people’s phones to determine the effectiveness of its search ads in driving visits to an advertisers store.
What all this data does is allow one-to-one communication at scale.
A clever tactic I saw from Obama’s campaign team during the 2008 elections was the level of personalisation in their messaging and targeting. They contacted Facebook members that had liked his Facebook page, asking them to message friends they identified that were living in key swing states such as Ohio to remind them register to vote, and then, once elections opened up, to vote early. It helped the sitting president out-flank Republican nominee Mitt Romney in many closely contested States.
The marketing world is wrestling with how they can develop content that is more entertaining and engaging than pushing out their ads—and this is the exact space where media companies have always operated.
These days, media companies are also opening up to the prospect of greater collaboration with brands.
To stay profitable media companies have had to figure out how to be smarter and more efficient in creating its content. In the US, media companies from the New York Times to Buzzfeed have set up branded content arms to create sponsored content and native advertising solutions. And there are already a host of fantastic examples, showing why it pays to work with those who specialise in developing in engaging content:
Because media is focused on what's happening, it's at the centre of what's trending at any given moment—and this is again something brands can tap into.
Real-time marketing is a strategy focused on current, relevant trends and immediate feedback from customers. Brands from Oreos to Nike have tapped into live sporting events and newsworthy stories, that in turn get amplified in social media. The Huffington Post/AOL launched its "brand newsrooms" service to help marketers tap into its news editorial expertise to create live content around these events.
And, then when you throw in technology, the ability to engage with audiences only becomes greater.
Social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk is someone I have a lot of time for. He made a great presentation telling marketers to “stop story-telling like its 2007.” It seems to take marketers a long time to catch up with consumers. 15 years ago, marketers were slow to climb into digital. Five years ago, social finally started being treated seriously by brands. It feels like brands are five years behind your teenage niece. Yet, the media companies are right there. They have to be. They don’t have a choice. Currently ABC News and FOX are early exponents of 360-degree video. There is an abundance of adtech solutions being employed by media firms that give richer and more personalized experiences. Working more closely with media companies could fuel inject a brands marketing.
So that’s my challenge to the marketing community. I’m not advocating that everyone reading this needs to jump on a flight to New York or San Francisco. There’s a tonne of knowledge on your consumer with the media companies right here. Who better to know how to engage Kiwi audiences? Buy the right one lunch soon.
Antony Young is a media and marketing advisor and blueberry farmer based south of the Bombay Hills. He spent 21 years abroad working in media in New York, London and Asia including Chief Executive of ZenithOptimedia UK and CEO of Mindshare North America. He is author of Brand Media Strategy: Communications Planning in the Digital Age [Palgrave MacMillan.]