I was honored to participate again in Wharton’s Future of Advertising 2020 Annual Meeting late in 2015, where some 50 thought leaders, innovators and visionaries from a breadth of marketing communications disciplines around the world gathered together in Philadelphia.
We were all asked to provide our personal perspective on the advertising industry specifically — and marketing communications in general — focusing on both significant recent developments in the business and, more importantly, what we each envisioned were the priority issues clients and agencies must address over the next five years. This spawned many fascinating insights and robust discussions, as one would expect in this august environment.
My own observations I’m pleased to share below and welcome your thoughts:
1. What do you see as the most compelling developments over the past year and what are the implications to the status quo?
For me, as a quasi-outsider to the classic ad agency world, it wasn’t a compelling “development” over the past year but a book that has caused me to look at marketing communications in a very different and inspiring new way. I’m referring to “Connected by Design,” by Barry Wacksman and Chris Stutzman of R/GA (not surprisingly named “Agency of the Year” at Cannes this past spring). Their treatise on “Functional Integration” and the new marketing “ecosystem” paradigm that clients like Apple and Nike have begun to master essentially points the way to, in my firm opinion, the agency model of the future. The implication is simply that the traditional “horizontal” approach to marketing— wherein clients endlessly stretch their brands to own shelf space, build brand awareness and spark purchase interest — will be overtaken by the highly assimilated and mutually beneficial connectivity offered by products and brands that embrace the full spectrum of interactive customer experience. In branding, we have long talked about “brand experience” but it was usually a two or sometimes three dimensional view. What Wacksman & Stutzman are describing is a totally immersive relationship that goes well beyond “likes” and “viral” vectoring into a virtual co-dependency between the customer and the brand.
It’s exhilarating and incredibly “sticky” when it works, but requires a complete breakdown of traditional marketing and communications silos and very new thinking. Many firms will look at R/GA’s success and attempt to copy their model; it will be interesting to see who ultimately succeeds in adapting to it effectively.
2. As you look out on the horizon, and considering your area of expertise/vantage point, what should we be paying attention to over the next 12 – 18 months and what concrete actions should we be taking as a result?
Long-term, sustainable agency/client relationships—the kind that once endured for 10, 20 and even 30 years—are today a quaint but largely obsolete memory for most firms. Conglomerated, cost-cutting, margin-protecting, talent-trampling agencies of all stripes have essentially undermined any serious attempt at professional client management training, evaluation and focus as simply too costly and time consuming. This forces inordinate emphasis on perpetual new business hunting and pitching, always the least efficient way to build revenues and profit, at the expense of true client service, development and long-term relationship building. If agencies are to once again return to healthy growth (and with it, the kind of margins they once took for granted), they must invest in the client relationships they have and measure their success as their own.
Regular client/agency relationship auditing is one simple and highly cost-effective tool to achieve this end. This should be an institutionalized process on an annual and even bi-annual basis. Building from that is professional agency and client management training, starting with entry level agency personnel and consistently following through with systematic coaching and workshopping as part of a serious, on-going program of career development for rising talent.
The result will be trained executive and creative leaders who understand how to both manage and motivate their own teams and inspire and grow their clients through exceptional service and genuinely valued thinking.
What are your thoughts on these topics? We welcome your comments.
Hayes Roth is principal of HA Roth Consulting and former CMO of Landor Associates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org