Why the agency of the future looks a lot like a media publisher or broadcaster


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.

Numbers game

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.

Engagement matters

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.


First published in StopPress NZ … http://stoppress.co.nz/opinion/why-brands-are-snuggling-media-companies


Second Edition of Brand Media Strategy

brand media strategy

Marketers Can Learn Plenty from Media Brands

Originally published in Advertising Age December 10, 2013

Marketers are used to holding all the power, while media owners scramble for dollars amid all kinds of disruption. But the smartest brands actually need to study their media partners and in many cases follow their lead.

Media brands operate in arguably the most competitive marketing arena. A cable network competes with 250 other brands for attention. Digital-media brands like Yahoo, Hulu and Facebook — once upstarts and disrupters themselves — are seeing shiny, newer upstarts invade their hard-won turf. Consumers switch brands at the click of a remote control or mouse. As businesses, their market share is tracked and measured in a matter of hours, rather than months.

But even with limited marketing budgets, media brands are improvising and making the most of their unpaid media options first. Here are some lessons we can draw from media brands:

Think like a publisher. The Daily Mail has become the largest newspaper website globally by perfecting its own brand of news and gossip, with bold use of visuals and clever search tactics to drive traffic to its site — and encourage its circulation around the web. The Huffington Post has become highly adept at creating interactive content, receiving over 7 million reader comments a month. Both have built their success on the back of some of the lowest-cost models in the business. This is something brands can emulate.

Of course it helps to have a news hook, such as a new product introduction — another area where all marketers can learn from media. In the months leading up to FX‘s “American Horror Story” premieres, TV viewers were teased with short, episodic flashes of unexplained, weird glimpses into the showcoven. Viewers were left puzzled and uneasy, but primed to want to see the show.


Create cultural moments. Maybe it’s easier said than done, but consider it your ambition. Rather than rely on advertising in other people’s events, BBC America created its own event when promoting “Dr Who: Day of the Doctor” last month to coincide with its “Doctor Who” 50th anniversary.

BBC screened a cinema 3-D simulcast in 11 cities and made sure to be highly active on social media. On Tumblr, 14.5 million views were registered on the BBC America “Doctor Who” page; Twitter saw 1.83 million tweets.

anchorman 2.jpgThe network promoted all of this on and off channel, creating celebrity spots online that in turn inspired spoofs. One came from Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy character from the forthcoming “Anchorman” sequel, another media-business case study in overachieving on marketing spending.


Innovate in social media. Eight of the ten most-liked Facebook brands, excluding celebrities, are media brands, and Fox’s “Family Guy” has over 50 million “likes.” Cable networks, however, have led the way in innovation of social-media platforms. MTV worked with Twitter to originate custom interactive experiences for its Video Music Awards, like an MTV Twitter Tracker site that encouraged viewers to tweet about VMA celebrities by expanding and shrinking the stars’ photos as corresponding Twitter waxed and waned. The network also created Hotseat — a seating chart of the theater that showed where celebrities were tweeting from during the broadcast. By clicking on a seat, viewers could see a celebrity’s real-time Tweets.

MTV can usually count on a Miley Cyrus kind of moment to drive social media chatter at the VMAs, but it does everything it can to get in position before that moment arrives.

Make the most of strategic marketing partnerships. Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio streaming music service has built an impressive brand amid a seas of alternatives. It’s achieved this partly with the muscle of Clear Channel’s radio stations, but also with the spectacle of the iHeartRadio music festival, album-release parties, exclusive artist content and partnerships with major media, technology and auto companies.

With so many alternatives to their products available instantly, media companies have not choice but to get their marketing right. Let’s emulate their best examples.

A Review of Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And the Art of Battling Giants

… And What Brands Can Learn from his latest book

An edited version of this appeared in Advertising Age on October 23rd, 2013


Malcolm Gladwell made a valuable contribution to marketing with his book The Tipping Point, which got us to think about how brands catch fire and the power of influencers.  Remarkably, despite being published over 11 years ago, it still ranks #1 on Amazon’s best sellers list among advertising books, and #2 among marketing books.

So I was curious to review his latest effort, David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And the Art of Battling Giants [Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group] to see if this might evoke an epiphany for me in the business.  For those expecting a marketing textbook, they might be left wanting.  No such cases studies of how Hush Puppies shoes was able to become cool again.  In fact, I sense Gladwell has become too famous to pander to us simple marketing folks.  His book showed less research, rather many stories – dozens’ of stories from the far past to modern day.  Mostly, they are stories of everyday individuals who have overcome extraordinary disadvantages or adversity.  For example, David Boies, who became a brilliant attorney despite his dyslexia.  There was also an account on Wilma Derksen and how she dealt with the violent murder of her thirteen year old daughter.

As advertisers, we love stories.  We love them, because we remember them.  They cause us to identify with the message at a personal level.  And such is Gladwell’s craft of storytelling that they provide a persuasive medium to get his ideas across.

The story I was particularly drawn to was of Vivek Ranadivé, an Indian national working in Silicon Valley, who decided to coach his twelve year old daughter’s basketball team.  He grew up a fan of cricket and soccer, and didn’t know the rules of basketball.  The girls on the team were daughters of nerds and computer programmers and were often overmatched by opponents that were taller and who were much more schooled in basketball skills.  Yet he devised an unconventional strategy and an approach that took his daughters team to the national championships.  Gladwell described Ranadivé as “an underdog and misfit, which gave him the freedom to try things no one else had dreamed of.” 

So what can brands can learn from David And Goliath?


Changing the Shape of the Battle.

Playing by the same rules as the established brands is a losing proposition.  When Ranadivé’s daughter’s basketball team played their opposition’s game plan, they lost.  This was the lesson I took, when the Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas needed to promote themselves against bigger, better known hotel properties.  Instead of competing with the noise, they created a sophisticated campaign for a sophisticated traveler promising a smaller more intimate experience.  The hotel continues to command some of the highest room rates on The Strip.  If you have the same strategy as another brand that’s outspending you 2-1, then you simply will lose.


The Act of Overwhelming Odds Produces Greatness and Beauty.

Being a David brand is so much about attitude.  Gladwell described how David Boies and Wilma Derksen talked about not accepting the inevitable.  So what if the establishment brands have bigger budgets, more resources and wider distribution.  Having judged at the Effie Awards, the campaigns that overcame the odds made the most compelling cases.  Sometimes the best ideas have come when our clients have challenged us to develop a media plan with no budget.   Dove’s global brand director, Fernando Machado briefed his agencies with exactly that task, out of which Dove’s Sketches campaign evolved.  (Oh, and by the way, they found budget to support it as so often clients do when confronted with great thinking.)


Substituting Speed and Surprise for Strength.

Bigger firms have scale over challenger companies.  But with scale, comes complexity in organizations to make decisions and act on them.  David brands can succeed by seeing opportunities early and gain an edge by securing them faster.   Urban Outfitters gained kudos for being the first major brand to employ Vine.  I’ve written in the past about Adaptive Marketing, and how marketers such as Interscope Records to Obama were able to move quicker to win in the marketing stakes.


Gladwell’s David and Goliath deserves to be on your bookshelf or Kindle library if only to remind you that success is so much more sweeter when beating the odds.



Mindshare’s Antony Young on Cannes: Smart Brands Find Ways to Plan Campaigns Less

Reflecting Events in Real Time and Adapting to Consumer Response

 Published in Ad Age: June 25, 2013

The music business was arguably the first industry to be totally disrupted by the internet. It’s had to re-invent itself to be more lean, more relevant, more creative and more savvy about marketing. And at one of the most interesting sessions I saw last week during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, I began to think other kinds of marketers could learn a lot from the music industry’s eventual response.

Interscope Records doesn’t over-plan its campaigns, said Jennifer Frommer, a senior VP of branded content and culture at the label, whose artists include Gwen Stefani and Eminem. Listening to the social signals and reaction on the street very much steers its next steps. Unlike most major marketers in other categories, which demand and exert total control over new product rollouts, Interscope almost always “leaks” a song or video — and tries to adapt its plans based on the response. The label had three goes at marketing Robin Thicke, for example, each time making adjustments, before “officially” launching “Blurred Lines.”


When Interscope was promoting the soundtrack to “The Great Gatsby,” Fergie and Q-Tip’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” started getting pick-up. That helped the label convince Samsung to co-promote it, shoot a full musical video within a week and release it as a single. The mantra, according to Ms. Frommer: “Listen, adapt, adjust and shift.”

I saw some evidence at Cannes that many brands are already following similar paths. During the red carpet lead-in to this year’s Oscars, for example, Pantene had an artist on hand to sketch pictures of stars’ hairstyles, originating and posting content in real time on how to replicate the stars’ look with Pantene products.

One Cannes panel described Miller Lite’s work with Brad Keselowski, the Nascar driver who added more than 100,000 new followers on Twitter by tweeting photos from inside his car during a delay in the 2012 Daytona 500. Nascar had responded to his Daytona stunt by banning smartphones from race cars, so Miller Lite let him dictate tweets during this year’s race.miller

But marketers’ new approach is broader than a social media stunt; we are starting to see more sustainable programs that contribute to hard sales. Our team in the U.K. picked up a Gold Media Lion for Kleenex work using Google data on searches for “flu and cold remedies” to help understand where to shift TV and radio media budgets. These efforts were rewarded with 40% uplift in sales. Getty Images’ campaign by R/GA also capitalized on searches, evaluating the images people were looking for and inserting relevant images into ads.

Twitter Chief Media Scientist Deb Roy, meanwhile, used Cannes to pitch its new product allowing brands to target promoted tweets toward people who tweet about particular shows — and therefore probably saw brands’ commercials there.

In many ways the industry is shifting toward planning campaigns lessCoca-Cola Global Content Director David Campbell said in one Cannes workshop that that execution should shape strategy in real time. And as a planner — okay, a former planner — I’m excited how this emphasis on response and speed is challenging conventional norms of planning. We all need to be more fluid. How you respond could well be more important than what you plan.

What Makes a Great Brand

great brands


I wrote this about five years ago … it seems to still make sense today.

What is a great brand? A great brand is a badge that customers, employees, and shareholders want to wear. It should steer and shape a culture and aspiration of how a product or company should behave. Brands are what people buy into, not just buy. They spark the emotional and the irrational, and that’s what helps to create a premium in perception and often in price. Finally, a great brand helps a company withstand bad news, awkward service, and lapses of judgment.

Going Beyond the 30 Second Ad is Not Only Desirable, it’s Now Essential

How a Content First approach to brand communications is creating more engagement

By Antony Young, CEO Mindshare North America

The 30 second ad has served us well as the staple for awareness building and driving brand familiarity.  However, the speed at which media is being viewed across multiple devices; the increasing scale and influence of social platforms; and how consumers now more than ever are dictating where, when and what media they choose to consumer is causing us to re-think how brands need to engage them.

That’s why I think that one of the most important ideas that agencies will have to adopt is a Content First approach to media.  If our role is to figure out how best to influence consumers, then we have to take a more strategic perspective on where to deliver ads as well as what type of content and content formats are best placed to meet brand communication goals.

Using Longer Form Content To Drive Reappraisal

royal carribbeanWhen Royal Caribbean looked to get first time cruisers to book, this presented them some real challenges.  A 30-second spot alone would not be enough to overcome all the misconceptions about cruises with which the brand needed to content.  Long form story telling was necessary to draw the consumer into the true onboard experience and shift consideration and reshape perceptions.  So Royal Caribbean agreed to develop two short films shot on their flagship “Allure of the Seas: ship featuring Jenny McCarthy and James Brolin.  The storyline incorporated their amenities onboard and gave viewers a more entertaining and organic view of the onboard experience.

 Shorter Form Commercials Are Increasingly becoming As Important

With 1 in 3 digital minutes now spent on a mobile device, when advertising a brand there’s a fine line between annoyance and acceptance that needs to be managed.    During College Basketball’s March Madness, the NCAA pushed out via Twitter live video game highlights of plays as they took place.  Followers could click on to the tweeted link that ran 5 second AT&T spots before the content.  A thirty or fifteen second spot would have certainly been a turn-off, but a short 5 second spot close up, seemed an acceptable trade for real time content in providing a positive consumer experience for basketball fans.   A Content First strategy ensures the consumer experience decides the messaging formats.

Content is About Really Putting the Consumer First

In truth, while we in the ad industry talk about putting consumers first, the reality is that creating ads is really about putting the brand at the center.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Content, however, plays a different role, in that rather than being focused on brand wants, it is targeted to consumer needs…for information, entertainment, expertise, etc.

HSBC’s Commercial  Banking group wanted to attract small to mid-size companies seeking to expand their business internationally.  Business without Borders – an online platform was created for businesses looking to expand outside of the U.S.

With HSBC we worked with the The Wall Street Journal, Economist Intelligence Unit and Bloomberg to curate business tools, global trends articles, and market analysis and complemented it with relevant financial information and resources.  LinkedIn provided an additional platform to connect this content to the right people, and activate a community of business professionals.

Business without Borders has become a meeting place where members develop relationships and share their experiences as part of the global economy.

In this case, thinking Content First helped to create utility, offer expert advice and help business professionals, exactly the brand proposition that HSBC are looking to establish.  That would have been difficult to achieve with traditional advertising.

Technology is fueling numerous new content opportunities

Some evolving technologies are helping us to create more powerful and relevant advertising opportunities.  When SAP tweeted links to New York Times content they felt was relevant to their CXO followers , SAP through a technology called Ricochet was able to own all the display ad positions around these articles on the NY Times web page.  This not only provided branding of valuable content to their customer, but click through rates that tracked 14 times higher than their response norms.

 makersBranded Content Needs to be Both Social and Shareable

One of the important pay outs in a Content First strategy is driving earned media.  It’s a universal truth that consumers are going to be more likely to share content than ads.  I really loved how Unilever teamed up with AOL and MAKERS Founder and Executive Producer Dyllan McGee to develop its Makers.com program for facial skincare brand Simple.  Simple’s goal was to celebrate women whose authenticity, ideals and pioneering spirit inspire others every day.  AOL helped develop a video platform to produce and share some 160 amazing stories of empowering and inspirational women that helped to make America … from Hillary Clinton to Hope Solo and Ellen DeGeneres.  The content program, TV special on PBS and surrounding events for the program drove advocacy amongst opinion formers, delivered this at scale generating over 200 million earned impressions via editorial, social mentions and raging endorsements from top beauty magazine editors to influential bloggers.

Data is Creating Adaptive Content Marketing Opportunities

We are seeing examples of how marketers are adapting their messaging by combining data and creativity.  Take what The Home Depot is doing with The Weather Channel.  Tapping the Home Depot banner on the Weather Channel’s mobile app sends you to their mobile ecommerce site, which dynamically showcases products extracting weather conditions and location data of the user.  Very cool.

Today’s crowded market creates more obstacles than ever before for advertisers, making it an increasingly difficult task to stand out and be heard.  The answer doesn’t start in the boardroom with a handful of executives creating an ad that is then pushed out.  It starts in the world, with a single consumer looking for information and entertainment, and a brand that is listening.

[An edited version appeared in Adage.com http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/30-ad-a/240857/]