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


How Data and Micro-Targeting Won the 2012 Election for Obama

If Obama’s Presidential campaign in 2008 was defined by social media, then surely his successful 2012 re-election bid should be attributed to their use of data and micro-targeting.

Election night seemed to confound many of the pundits. Governor Romney appeared to put together a strong campaign with the polls leading into the final week suggesting a tight race. Romney won 60% of White voters. He in fact even won the independents vote. Yet he lost the key battleground States of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada … handing the sitting President a second term.

How did Obama win?

First, he delivered a well-orchestrated campaign of largely negative advertising targeting Romney, which served the purpose of suppressing voter turnout by traditionally Republican supporters.

Second, he mobilized key voter blocks to register early and vote. 18-24 year olds; African Americans; Latinos and single women in the key swing States. Voter turnout for these four key demographics was about 70% thereby giving him the numbers he needed to push him over the edge.

At the heart of these two strategies, was micro-targeting.

Micro-targeting is the ability to dissect in this case, the voter population in to narrow segments and customize messaging to them, both in on-the-ground activities and in the media.

Micro-targeting isn’t a new idea in politics or marketing for that matter. Karl Rove expertly exploited this in the successful Bush campaign in 2000 and 2004. But it was the sophistication and the scale of how they executed this strategy that in the end, proved the knock-out punch for the Democrats.

The Obama camp in preparing for this election, established a huge Analytics group that comprised of behavioral scientists, data technologists and mathematicians. They worked tirelessly to gather and interpret data to inform every part of the campaign. They built up a voter file that included voter history, demographic profiles, but also collected numerous other data points around interests … for example, did they give to charitable organizations or which magazines did they read to help them better understand who they were and better identify the group of‘persuadables‘ to target.

That data was able to be drilled down to zip codes, individual households and in many cases individuals within those households.

However it is how they deployed this data in activating their campaign that translated the insight they garnered into killer tactics for the Obama campaign.

Volunteers canvassing door to door or calling constituents were able to access these profiles via an app accessed on an iPad, iPhone or Android mobile device to provide an instant transcript to help them steer their conversations. They were also able to input new data from their conversation back into the database real time.

The profiles informed their direct and email fundraising efforts. They used issues such Obama’s support for gay marriage or Romney’s missteps in his portrayal of women to directly target more liberal and professional women on their database, with messages that “Obama is for women,” using that opportunity to solicit contributions to his campaign.

Micro-targeting helped them to steer their broadcast buying approach. While both campaigns followed conventional wisdom to buy spots in Local Broadcast news programming, Obama’s team differentiated their schedule by adding networks like TV Land whose viewers they determined “were less political” and therefore more likely to be a persuadable.

Even the selection of celebrity fundraisers were informed by the data. The team identified women 40-49 as the highest contributors to their campaign. Obama’s analytics team in crunching the numbers uncovered that Sara Jessica Parker of Sex in the City fame popped as the most appealing celebrity to this demographic and called her up to ask if she would host a fundraiser dinner for Obama in New York. Web ads and emails from Michelle Obama were sent targeting this group asking them to “chip in whatever they can” with a chance to win an invitation, hotel and flights to New York to attend the event.

As mentioned earlier, encouraging early voting and a higher turnout of key target groups was critical in winning the swing states. They used classic micro-targeting online advertising to reach those groups. Obama’s team’s use of Facebook this time was also very clever, tapping into Facebook’s individual profile data. A million users downloaded the Obama 2012 app on Facebook. The app was able to identify their Facebook friends that fit favorable profiles located in key swing states, encouraging them to contact these friends to remind them to vote. Sources say one in five of those contacted this way were influenced positively by this contact.

Marketers need to take heed of how the Obama campaign transformed their marketing approach centered around data. They demonstrated incredible discipline to capture data across multiple sources and then to inform every element of the marketing – direct to consumer, on the ground efforts, unpaid and paid media. Their ability to dissect potential prospects into narrow segments or even at an individual level and develop specific relevant messaging created highly persuasive communications. And finally their approach to tap their committed fans was hugely powerful. The Obama campaign provides a compelling case for companies to build their marketing expertise around big data and micro-targeting. How ready is your organization to do the same?


Is Experience in Media and Advertising Overrated?

Appeared in Ad Age April 22, 2011

Last week I spoke to a bunch of seniors at Syracuse’s Newhouse communications school. I discussed how one of the leading challenges we face is trying to keep up with and remain relevant in this fast-changing media market. I realized that the students couldn’t really grasp a world where everyone actually read a physical newspaper or even remember a time when network prime-time dominated. They think “Friends” and “Seinfeld” are just shows that run in syndication, they get their political news on “The Daily Show” — which they watch online — and nearly all of them are active tweeters. To them, the media world hasn’t changed. It’s just they way it is.

The students then peppered me with questions on social media. What new ways is your agency employing it for brands? How do you measure its effectiveness? How are you selling it to clients? It didn’t occur to them that as a media agency, we wouldn’t be deploying social media on all clients’ campaigns.

It made me wonder whether our industry puts too much stock in “experience.” We value it, seek it out, even sell it in our agency credentials. But is experience overrated in media when the ground is shifting so quickly?

WPP’s Martin Sorrell a few years back said brands weren’t moving quickly enough to digital because the people running agencies “tend to be of an older vintage,” which he felt were more inclined “to be resistant to change.” Clients are so often looking for new ideas and fresh thinking, yet as agencies we continue to offer up account directors, creatives and planners with category experience. (What did Einstein say about the definition of insanity?) In fact, when a new CMO arrives at a client, it’s the agency’s habit of sticking to what worked in the past that so often gets it into trouble.

In new business, agencies frequently like to speak to their experience, but do clients place the same importance on it? In a recent new-business meeting we had with a prospect, I insisted that we not present any credentials or client case-studies. The pitch team was unsure but agreed to go with it. The clients’ feedback: Of all the agencies they met, we impressed them the most.

Agencies at the top of the tree do seem to be figuring out that direct experience isn’t as essential as it once seemed. Consider the number of non-American execs that appear to be doing very well heading U.S. media agencies. The roll call includes Nick Brien (McCann Worldgroup), Richard Beaven (Initiative), Nigel Morris (Aegis), Martin Cass (Carat), Phil Cowdell (Mindshare) and Tim Jones (ZenithOptimedia). I could even add myself to that list. This would seem to suggest that deep experience in U.S. media isn’t a prerequisite for being successful.

In fact, it would appear that in many cases, having little direct experience in a sector might be an advantage. Joe Uva completed a very successful stint as head of Univision. The Italian-American former CEO of OMD and TV exec didn’t even speak Spanish. Kevin Roberts spent his career as a client at P&G, Pepsi and Lion Nathan before being appointed to run Saatchi & Saatchi. And I recently had the pleasure of meeting Greg Osberg, a former magazine and internet executive who is now CEO and president of Philadelphia Media Network and appears to be doing an imposing job shaking up the newspaper company.

Of course, many will point to numerous examples of a complete outsider coming into a role only to fail miserably. But for every one of those, I’d count many more examples of insiders with the right experience on paper who have been misses.

I’m not discounting grey hair. Many will know I’ve got plenty of my own on offer. However, my advice is not to discard a resume too quickly because of a lack of relevant experience or many years spent acquiring it. One thing that attracted me to this business is that someone once told me that the advertising business always puts talent ahead of seniority … qualities over qualifications … results over style. Somehow we lost sight of that. It’s my view that the people in our business that seem to have the highest chance of success are those that have unbridled passion, electric enthusiasm and a constant appetite to figure out the next new thing before the other guy or gal. At least that’s what I’ve found in my experience!

Expedia vs. Priceline — Whose Media Plan to Book?

Hotels have very much become the major battleground for Expedia and Priceline and this is reflected in the focus of their advertising. Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s) accounted for 34.7% of all U.S. hotel bookings in the first quarter of 2010, up from 27.8% in 2009, Priceline CMO Brett Keller said in a recent speech.


Visa vs. MasterCard: Who’s on the Money?

The credit-card companies were presented with some challenges in 2009. First and foremost, the risk that their advertising is seen as encouraging reckless spending or increasing consumer debt; and secondly, being closely associated with the financial institutions seen as responsible for much the economy’s woes. So how did they handle their media campaigns while driving their business?


M&M’s vs. Hershey’s Kisses — a Media Trick or Treat?

Americans will fill their shopping baskets with a whopping 600 million pounds of candy during this Halloween season. This represents a crucial sales period for the country’s two largest confectionary manufacturers, Mars Snackfood US and The Hershey Company, as each looks to make their year. Here we analyze the 2009 media plans for their flagship brands: M&M’s and Hershey Kisses.


It’s Tax Day: H&R Block vs. TurboTax

April 15 is forever logged into our consciousness as Tax Day. Tomorrow some 140 million Americans will have filed their tax returns to the IRS, a chore I personally put just slightly ahead of a tooth extraction. But for two companies — H&R Block, the country’s largest tax-preparation service, and Intuit, marketer of leading software service TurboTax — this date remains a highly anticipated event on their marketing calendars.