Past tense/future perfect? Darren Woolley gazes into the global ad industry’s crystal ball

Trinity P3’s founder and chief ‘pitch doctor’ Darren Woolley was one of more than 30 agency management consultants and search company representatives who attended the AdForum CEO Summit in New York last week and found out where the advertising industry was heading and how the agencies were taking it there. The consultants represented more than 530 agency searches each year, or the equivalent of $9 billion in billings, from marketers around the globe looking to find agencies with the right chemistry for their needs. And here’s what he learned from the six day conflab.

Day 2

Day two of the Adforum CEO Summit was our first day of agency meetings. Up early and on to the bus, with heavy grey clouds hanging over the New york skyline, the mood and expectations were high as we headed up and across town to Ogilvy. They did not disappoint, getting us to Rethink Ogilvy by setting the breakfast meeting as if it were late night in a nightclub or cabaret. But the message was clear and reinforced here and in the following meetings at Droga5 and Grey Global Group.

The industry has come to grips with integrating and having digital as the foundation and platform for brand communication, so now the focus is on creativity and the ideas that drive change and results. But that this is no longer about global head offices developing campaigns that are pumped out into the various markets. The new paradigm is a focus on delivering customised messages to consumers based on their geographic and cultural needs.

This was demonstrated with live links to its four main growth markets in India, Brazil, Russia and China, which in five years have quadrupled their contribution to the agency’s total revenue. Interestingly all four markets said consultants played a very small or non-existent role in each market.

Droga5 had a different approach to the same creative-led message, which focused on its approach to deliver bespoke strategic solutions to the clients’ needs. This approach was demonstrated with great case studies for Puma, UNICEF Tap Project and telco company Net10.

The concept of effective creative was echoed at Grey with its positioning and the fact that Fast Company named them as one of the top 50 most Innovative Companies.

Photo: Pitch consultants from around the world meeting in NYC for the AdForum CEO Summit 2010.

Day 3

It was a day of contrasts, with further evidence that digital is now mass media—according to the team at Y&R, Publicis, which proved that the promises of change are now delivered, Sapient Nitro, which has mastered the relationship between people and technology and the effect technology has on people, CHI&Partners, which has provided three agency models for delivering their client’s evolving needs and Euro RSCG, which asked the pitch consultants “Who wants to be a Euro Millionaire”.

Y&R had implemented a back to the future strategy, discovering and evolving the original Young & Rubicam approach to “Resist the usual” with a creative revolution that saw 42 new executive creative directors replaced, including every one of them in Asia.

Publicis demonstrated on the promises made in past years, with digital revenue on the way to being 30 percent of the total by 2015 with a successful online and iPhone application for DePaul UK, The Coca Cola Village social media campaign in Israel and online gaming for British Army recruitment.

Sapient Nitro demonstrated its expertise in the technology space with the Streets Ice Cream “Share Happy” vending machine that recognised smiling faces and a Sneakerpedia for sneaker lovers and Foot Locker.

CHI changed the pace, providing a different view to the ways agencies can be structured to meet clients’ changing needs, which, as Johnny Hornby said, it has not changed since the Mad Men days. And the day finished with David Jones from Euro RSCG as game show host as consultants competed answering questions designed to demonstrate Euro’s achievements. Certainly a day of contrasts.

Day 4

It was a day of more. Not just more time in the bus travelling from agency to agency. And not just more eating and drinking and talking with more agencies. Though there was that too. The agency meetings are definitely showing that the industry is about MORE.

Doing MORE. Influencing MORE. Co-ordinating MORE. And controlling MORE.

If the agencies are right, 2010 will be a year when agencies re-establish their capabilities and influence across all parts of the marketing mix. With the established agency networks heavily investing in specialist disciplines, especially retail activation to cover the “last 10 yards” or specialist segments such as marketing to children, multicultural segments such as the Hispanic and Islamic communities or vertically up into product/service innovation and down into all aspects of digital production.

The great variable is the approach the various agencies are taking. While the emphasis on the IDEA is common to all, the interpretation of what the IDEA is varies. As quoted by one agency, who maintained they are not a agency, “Most agencies will say they are in the ideas business, but they are really in the communications business”.

With Hakuhodo Tokyo’s Gold Lion this year for K’s Japan “Smash”, a guitar that is designed to be destroyed, clearly agency ideas are moving beyond communications to products to position brands. Meanwhile the established networks and agencies have developed approaches to streamline the marketing communications process through collaboration and management of their various areas, divisions and specialist companies. There was even a company which was established purely to develop and produce creative technology ideas for brands, other agencies and, of course, the consumer.

But the sum of all these investments, developments and efforts is that the industry is looking to provide marketers with more of what they want in the way that they want it. The question is, are the marketers ready to pay for it as we come out of the financial crisis of the past two year?

Day 5

We started taking about value and ended talking about costs. And it demonstrated the huge gap that still exists between procurement, marketers and agencies, if not on an intellectual level, certainly on an emotion one. The morning was meeting with agencies Creative Realities international and Arnold. As one of the new generation, I am not sure CRI would consider itself an agency, with an approach to using design and technology to create compelling customer experiences. In contract to Arnold, an agency of more than six decades experience, which creates great work that works. Both are taking different paths and approaches to the same destination, delivering results and creating value for their clients.

The afternoon the focus turned to the increasing role of procurement in the marketing category. Usually when people think of procurement the focus is on cost reduction and this is certainly a key focus with a recent ANA Survey showing that 68 percent of procurement respondents report to finance, accounting, sourcing or supply chain management.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Report also showed that while 73 percent of marketers and 74 percent of agencies felt that procurement met or exceeded expectations in cost savings, only 54 percent of marketers and 23 percent of agencies felt the same about their role in process improvement.

In regards to seeing marketing as an expense to be reduced or an investment to be optimised, while 97 percent of procurement believe they see marketing and an investment, only 56 percent of marketers and only 26 percent of agencies agree with them.

The issue is not the role of procurement in marketing, as that is a given. The issue is the way all parties work together. Earlier in the week the comment was made at WPP that efficiency and effectiveness should go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. Procurement is focused on delivering efficiency and agencies are focused on effectiveness. In between are the marketers who will never want efficiency without effectiveness and that is where the balance lies.

Day 6

There was an insight into the future today. Meetings with industry leading digital agencies Huge, R/GA and Digitas reminded us of the pace of change. Earlier in the week we had met with numerous traditional agencies which had gone back to their origins to find their distinctive philosophy. In most cases this was refocusing on the creative idea and today executing this with the digital platform front and centre.

The big difference with these specialist digital agencies on Friday is they do not talk about campaign ideas, they talk about platforms for on-going consumer engagement. It is about building long-term assets and resources that are based in consumer utility or entertainment, used in their daily lives, becoming valuable owned media for the brand and then earned media when they share this with friends, family, colleagues and the world.

The mantra in the digital world is interactive engagement. You can tell someone, which is where traditional advertising resides. You can show someone with demonstrations, which works in traditional and online advertising. But maximum emotional involvement is when you engage someone in letting individuals experience it for themselves and then assist them in sharing that experience with others.

Of course, everyone is talking about creating experiences and not just ads, but the core difference appears to be that the approach to this is fundamentally different between many of the campaign-driven agencies and the digital platform builders.

On one hand you have a model that develops, launches, builds and then fades, requiring a new campaign and a fresh approach to again build that awareness and engagement. The second approach is evergreen, with the brands building online platforms that consumers interact with an build in engagement and loyalty.

The first approach continues the consumable, disposable approach of traditional advertising. The second is about building and investing in longer term brand assets. Which one is right? Time will tell, but the digital agencies are ultimately building valuable assets for their clients, not just providing a service. But time will tell.

  • Darren Woolley is founder and managing director of Trinity P3, an independent marketing management consulting company that provides marketers and advertisers with cost benchmarks, industry best practice knowledge, training and independent third party advice on how to maximise the value of their advertising and marketing budgets.

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