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The Ad Agency Is Dead—Or Is It?

The demise of the ad agency appears all set.

A tombstone prepared.

The obituaries written.

The lilies artfully arranged.

Which is a perfect time for the AdForum 2014 Summit.

The “Summit” is where a gathering, gaggle, school or pack (choose your own plural) of the world’s leading pitch intermediaries (or search consultants, if you like) spend five days in NYC meeting with a mix of global advertising networks like Lowe, DDB, JWT and Publicis, (including an appearance by Chairman and CEO Maurice Levy), digital powerhouses like Huge and RG/A, media giants like OMD, international agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, The Martin Agency and CP&B, smaller shops Story, Work & Co, Brooklyn Brothers, and experiential ones like Iris.

Also during the week we’d get presentations from the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) and some perspective on newer industry developments such as production decoupling.

Basically, the week is a microcosm of what the agency world has to offer clients, brands and products; the state of their business, what clients are thinking, demanding and buying, and what’s new in terms of agency talent, practices and capabilities.

What better way to get a swift temperature check on how agencies are feeling these days, and their predicted demise?

So what did I pick up?

Five things seemed to strike a chord and find a place in my memory banks.

Brands Require Culture and Talkability

Culture and talkability: two words that were a key phrase during the week.

We all know it’s not just enough for a brand to prattle on about what it does and what formats it comes in. Now, each successful brand needs to have a POV about what’s going on in the world and engage fully in it.

So I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments of agencies who preached the “culture” initiative.

Brent Smart, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi NY spoke enthusiastically about moving brands “beyond reason into culture.”

Richard Pinder CEO, UK and International of CP&B spoke about working at the speed of culture and the desire to make CP&B work “the most written about, talked about and outrageously effective work in the world,” highlighting the thought that “99% of all work is not talked about” and wanting to focus their work in that other 1% space.

The Brooklyn Brothers also “want to build brands a share of culture, not of category.”

Marketers Love Makers

As I wrote in a previous post, http://tinyurl.com/lngfjza marketers want to get closer to people who make stuff. Being able to come up with ideas is the one thing agencies have traditionally been paid for. But now the ability to build the prototypes, write the code, create the content, produce the events, get them to market tomorrow, and all within the agencies four walls is becoming paramount.

The maker culture is a big one, and a huge opportunity for agencies to show off the variety of talents that lives inside the company.

Agencies Need To Be Business Transformers

Of course the best ones always have been. Or certainly have helped their clients in that objective, Ogilvy and IBM being the classic example.

But digital and social capability and thinking are transforming the way communications is used in business transformation. Saatchi NY is helping transform Walmart’s tricky reputation as they invest $250 billion in American job creation over the next 10 years. CP&B transformed the reputation of how a Domino’s pizza tastes with their handling of the “cardboard pizza” crisis, and transformed the fortunes of American Express small-business clients with the introduction of the remarkable Small Business Saturday initiative.

R/GA is transforming how we use McCormick’s range of flavors and spices, introducing an idea called “FlavorPrint,” a sort of Nike+ idea for food, and updated us on their Accelerator start-up program.

All remarkably smart, business-transforming ideas, creatively executed.

Don’t Talk About Digital Advertising Anymore

Finally, we’ve moved beyond talking about digital this and digital that.

Any agency that spends time outlining its digital capabilities and how remarkably integrated they are, clearly isn’t.

It’s all price of entry now. Anyone talking about being “born digital” is standing on an empty platform staring at the back end of the train. Digital, social, mobile is embedded in everything a successful agency needs to do. It is not a separate skill that needs to be highlighted.

The Connected Age Is Upon Us

R/GA, with founder, chairman and CEO Bob Greenberg and EVP, Chief Growth Officer Barry Wacksman specifically, led us through their thinking on the next steps for R/GA by introducing the concept of functional integration and the connected age, why it’s worked for brands like Nike, Google and Amazon, and why it’s important for any brand to build a digital ecosystem.

All very important developments for agencies and brands.

But the thing that struck me above all these was that all the doom and gloom about agencies appears rather premature.

That the people we met with are not the lumbering agencies of the past. They are bright, modern, fully aware of the world brands live in and are offering marketers a huge variety of new talents, skills, knowledge, savvy and crafts, all delivered with an energy and passion that combine in ways no other offering can.

It said to me that for all the talk of the demise of the ad agency, it’s certainly not a fait accompli. They’re not going to go down without a fight. There’s simply too much talent, passion, commitment and savvy for clients to ignore.

Where else are they going to get that—a management consultancy?

Agencies are re-inventing, re-working, re-engineering, re-emerging and not taking any talk of demise lying down.

The Summit presented me (and the gaggle) an opportunity to re-assess the ad agency of today, and I came out thinking that there’s a huge amount of talent and energy that is ready to be a great ally for any brand in any fight, from purely survival to stunning success.

Bravo!

All a brand needs to do is to find the right ally.

 


General Mills Hires A Chief Creative Officer. Is This Crazy, Or The Future?

The appointment of a chief creative officer was announced the other day.

That’s not big news if it’s an ad agency appointment. But this was General Mills announcing the hiring of Michael Fanuele, former chief strategy officer of ad agency Fallon in Minneapolis, as its chief creative officer.

General Mills is a company more associated with getting America up and running in the mornings with Cheerios, Wheaties and Pillsbury dough boys. A no-nonsense food giant, whose brands we enjoy everyday. I can see why Apple, Google or Facebook would go out and hire a chief creative officer. But General Mills?

I worked with Michael Fanuele when he was chief strategy officer at Euro RSCG, (now Havas). He’s one of the smartest, passionate, inspiring and infectious people I’ve ever met in the business, and also a brilliant presenter, (and one I would never recommend following in a presentation) so I called him to get some insight into this.

I started by asking the obvious question: What on earth does a chief creative officer do within a company like General Mills? Overall he sees the role as “sending a message. A commitment from General Mills to smart, innovative business thinking and great creative execution.” Adding that General Mills had made “lots of smart creative and innovative moves in the business space. Now we need to match those moves in marketing.”

Earlier this month, General Mills bought Annie’s, one of the largest makers of organic foods in the country, and that sounds like one of those creative moves Michael was referring to.

Going further he sees the role in a few ways. Within General Mills he sees a role “working with the brand people, to inspire and influence them.” I think he’ll be a great talent to bring in to inspire the General Mills brands.

Beyond that he sees a role that starts with strong brand strategy leading directly to great work. “Agencies have always allied strategy and creative; that was my job inside the agency. Make sure that strategy allowed great work to flourish. But it’s a new job inside clients.” The important point here to me is that Michael will be focused not only on content creation, but production as well. That’s an important and new role, getting marketers to focus on creating great stand-out ideas, and then making sure that they’re flawlessly produced.

Within the agency partners he sees the role as one that signals the end of relationships “based on a toxic cynicism.”

And undermining the myth, “Clients think agencies don’t understand their business, agencies think clients don’t understand creativity.”

In terms of getting the work better, “I’m here to help our brand people evaluate work. To move out of the kill-it culture. To help people see the difference between judging an idea and nurturing one.”

All good news to me.

So is this appointment madness or the future?

I’m leaning heavily to the latter.

Firstly, a big “Bravo!” to General Mills CMO Mark Addicks who made the hiring. It continues a trend of marketers bring in very creatively minded ad agency people like Jonathan Mildenhall at Airbnb, Dana Anderson at Mondelez, Ann Bologna at Trip Advisor—all senior, very creative people now having huge influences right at the center of brands.

I believe we will see more of this type of hiring, especially in companies like Kraft, Mondelez and General Mills, where their brands have been around for a while and likely in need a bit of a jump start.

Marketers understand that brand management is less and less about “managing” and more and more about creating brands that believe in something, that consumers want to engage with, enjoy and share. I’ve spoken many times about the end of the brand manager and the emergence of the brand creative director, who leads a brand like an editorial director leads a magazine, a conductor leads an orchestra, or a chief creative officer leads an ad agency.

I suppose the last question is the biggest one of all. And one that again questions the future of agencies. Have we reached a point where the most talented people in the ad business have recognized that they now, in truth, have very little influence on brands, that agencies are being moved more and more to the periphery, and that the only way they can get back to the center is by moving to the client side?

And is it the only real way for them to get back a little of the oldest aphrodisiac of all—power?.

This article first appeared in Forbes.

 

 

 


Take responsibility for new business

There are a few indicators to signal how a marketing firm is going to do in new business – pitches won and lost for example. But numbers can’t tell the whole story. If your agency is winning new business, great – you’re probably doing most things right. But if you’re losing… well, check this short list and see if there is something you need to correct. And address any issues now, or you may end up wondering what happened and why you never won any new business.

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Lead Right! Agency senior management often finds themselves working “in the agency” rather than “on the agency.” At most agencies, senior management is trapped into the role of being the number one skill player. That’s like a football coach trying to run with the ball. Get off the field and let your agency advance the play. Set expectations and train your staff.

Position Right! Agencies have been out positioned by the consultants and the brand specialists. Agencies are forced to deal with lower level functionaries on the client side in conference rooms while major decisions are made at the CEO level in the boardroom. Reposition your agency with a consulting side and an advertising side. Set your firm up for long-term growth. Run around client-side junior coordinators that don’t have the brains or the talent to give your creative staff solid direction.

Grow Right! New business must be focused on lead generation. New business is the lifeblood of the business and leads are the heartbeat. Your new business effort needs to be split into winning the opportunity and winning the account. Find and identify hundreds of clients who are unhappy and want to change their marketing communication companies.

(more…)


Remember the sun in Cannes

Cannes, June 2014 – You may have walked along the Croisette and wondered what those huge glass boxes with famous paintings on them and paper inside were… Well, we’ve got the answer for you! We had the chance to meet Jason Minyo (http://jasonminyo.com/) , one of the creatives involved in the development of this piece of art, who walked us through the installation and explained to us what the project consists of.

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Cannes is a sad place for Italians 2

brw-macs2Now for the sequel to my previous article, about the dismal performance of Italy at the Cannes Lions Festival. So how did we do this year? The 61st Cannes Advertising Festival awarded 1143 Lions: Italy won 15 of them, even fewer than last year (19), putting it in18th place in the rankings.

As usual, the USA took first place, with 215 Lions, followed by Brazil (107 – at least some good news for Brazil!) and the UK (104).  France rises to 4th place with 85 Lions (29 more than last year).

(more…)


Cannes is a sad place for Italians

As you know, this year’s edition of the Cannes Lions Festival is now well underway. The event is recognised as one of the best thermometers of creativity levels in each country. Last year, the Italian advertising community was very happy with the 19 Lions it won (out of 1,059 awarded).

In reality it was a pretty mediocre result – its only merit was to be in line with the previous year (18 Lions), as well as confirming an improvement over the shameful results of 2011 (only 4 awards). A better way of gauging how a country “weighs” creatively is to compare the number of Lions it wins with those of other countries. But that data is not easy to access, either at agency or advertiser associations. To our knowledge, it is not even collected by trade magazines. However, at Istituto Protagora, we have been monitoring this situation over a number of years.

To get a meaningful result, one needs to go back at least five years. We have analyzed the last 10. Here are some of the highlights:

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The secrets of digital luxury

What strategies do luxury brands use to succeed online? 

Until recently, the luxury industry tended to be a bit snooty about the internet. Luxury brands lure customers with craftsmanship, heritage and beauty: all things the digital world lacks. If you don’t agree, just take a look at Google, Facebook and Twitter. They’re very useful, even addictive. But beautiful? Not really. That’s because the internet was built by technologists, not artists.

Yet luxury brands no longer have a choice. They have to go digital, or face flagging sales. The emerging younger market grew up with the internet. And in developing economies, luxury retailers often have a limited physical presence. One of the reasons luxury brands have been rather slow to establish themselves in India is a lack of premium real estate – and subsequently high rental costs. (more…)


Thoughts on “shockvertising”

While conducting research and
 gathering information for a university project, a colleague and myself became 
particularly interested in what has become commonly known as “shockvertising”: advertisements with provocative content.

Unhate

“Shockvertising”  has
 been frequently adopted and discussed in recent years. However its effect on 
the audience has yet to be proven due to the double-sided nature of
the phenomenon. Shockvertising works by attracting the attention of the audience. At the same time, it plays on highly emotive elements
 which in normal life might be considered negative. Embarrassment, fear, sadness and disgust are just some of the emotions often roused by shockvertising.

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Flight 370 lost in social maze

I flew into Penang, Malaysia, almost exactly a week after Malaysia AirPlane mazelines Flight 370 vanished. Although I’m a reporter by training, I was not there to write about the missing plane. In fact I was on the first leg of a lecture tour of Asia. My brief was to talk about branding in the digital era to assorted groups of students and marketers.

Still, I got sucked into the story anyway. My taxi driver was full of opinions, which ranged from government cover-ups to holes in the fabric of time and space, Lost style. The first thing I saw in the lobby of the G Hotel was an enormous board marked with the words “Hopes and prayers for MH370″. It was black with messages of condolence. Today we know that, tragically, the aircraft probably crashed into the sea. But back then the speculation in the Malaysian press was almost as wild as that of my driver. As jet-lag kicked in, I began to feel lost myself. (more…)


Agency of the Future

BUT FIRST THE PAST

Six years ago I published an article in Advertising Age entitled “The Agency Model Is Bent, Not Broken.”  It was in response to claims than it was broken.  Now, a half-dozen years later I believe the model is finally evolving to the shape of the future.

Last August, when the planned merger of Publicis/Omnicom was announced, the trades explained WPP’s “agency team approach,” in response.  In it, Sir Martin Sorrell did not emphasize competing on size, but rather on shape.

Quoting Ad Age: “WPP promises a client an integrated marketing unit tailored with talent from across its agencies…  (more…)


Angela Natividad Paris, France Strategist and writer
Bob Sanders Pittsburgh, United States Consultant
Dan Pearlman Santa Monica, United States CEO/Managing Partner
Darren Woolley Sydney, Australia Marketing Management Consultant
Emanuele Nenna Milan, Italy Founder, Now Available
Enrico Gervasi Milan, Italy Founder, Istituto Protagora
Florence Garnier PARIS, France Consulting company
Florie Hubac Paris, France Communication & Marketing Manager
Hervé de Clerck , Switzerland Founder
Johanna McDowell Johannesburg, South Africa
Mark Tungate Paris, France Journalist and author
Matt Walsh Wellington, New Zealand Director of Business Development
Maud Largeaud Paris, France Chief Information Manager
michael lee New York, United States creative search consultant.
Monika Vaiciulyte Lund, Sweden Student
paget@adforum.com'
Philippe Paget Paris Area, France Global CEO AdForum
Steve Fajen New York, United States Marketing Consultant
Steven Johnson London, United Kingdom Creative consultant
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