Four Areas Agencies Need to Embrace to Stay Relevant

Content, Data, Collaboration and Consolidation Are Not Just Buzzwords

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I'm en route home to Philly from the 4A's Transformation Conference in Austin -- 30,000 feet being an appropriate metaphor for where my head is at right now, following several days of lofty ideas, conversations and interactions about where our industry is headed.

I counted the following buzzwords 2,768 times from presenters and attendees during the conference: content, data, collaboration and consolidation. Here are some of the ways each of these will impact small and medium agencies:

Content: With the rapid expansion of websites, apps, blogs and email for marketing, there is an equal need for content on all of those platforms. Effective content marketing requires a smart strategy, good writing, compelling visuals and video. But the theme at the conference was about taking content to a higher level, integrating it into campaigns and exploring new vehicles to get in front of -- and influence -- target audiences. Agencies and their clients can tap the skills of companies that have multichannel access to millennials via video channels on YouTube and other social platforms. These channels feature regular "programming"' that attracts young, devoted audiences that are influenced to buy the brands that the show's talent endorses. One of the big YouTube stars is Brittani LouiseTaylor; check out her site, and you will likely be exposed to a new world of content and entertainment that has captivated (mostly) young girls everywhere.

Data: There's so much chatter about big data that it can get to be impersonal and clinical. So let's call it what it is: Data is people. And in Austin, there was no shortage of presentations about how data must be captured, analyzed and baked into marketing campaigns. Technology has become so sophisticated that data and advertising can come together to inspire at the point of purchase. For example, I was walking along the campus of the University of Texas after one of our sessions, and a promotional video by the university was placed on my Snapchat. The marketing minds working with the university quickly analyzed my mobile data, knew I had never been on that campus before, and bought the ad on an app that is used primarily by teenagers. Maybe I'm immature by being on Snapchat, so the video ad wasn't relevant to me, but the strategy was pretty smart and modern. There is so much shopper data available today that agencies and their clients need to work more closely together to take full advantage of the analytics impacting the message.

Collaboration: Most of the campaigns that are truly effective today are the result of collaborations. Agencies are working with media channels and platforms, and with their clients, to create the best ideas today. Rarely do you have one company that can pull off the kind of multichannel content necessary to reach targeted online and offline audiences. Case in point: Wendy's fast food chain, its agency VML and Twitter came together to launch pulled-pork BBQ items on the menu. The campaign used various social channels, primarily Twitter, to send out shareworthy video, and a highly interactive Tweet-a-thon, to successfully establish BBQ at Wendy's. Check out #BBQ4Merica. Agencies should be open to working with all sorts of new resources that can provide access and talent to drive results for clients.

Consolidation: For years, the move among agencies and clients was to unbundle services. Media planning and buying became separate, standalone entities. PR and social were spun off. Digital marketing shops set out on their own. Much of this was driven by clients who wanted to choose specialists to work on their brands, rather than select a full-service shop to do it all. There was much talk at the 4A's conference about the need for those services to come back together -- especially media and creative. The agency world has come full circle as the lines between media planning and content have blurred, as they are so integral to the success of the other. Even at Brownstein Group, we once had media planning and buying in-house, then partnered with outside media shops for the last 15 years. While that partnership has served us well, and hopefully will continue to do so, my team has already defined the need to have some media planning expertise under our roof. Plus, many CMOs bemoaned the fact that managing too many agencies just gives them a headache.

The reality is we are in an industry that changes practically every day. It's dynamic. But it takes a commitment to evolving your agency in a constant manner -- especially if you own a small to midsize shop, where change can, and should, happen even faster. If you haven't already done so recently, perhaps it's time to take a look inward at your shop and give yourself an objective inspection of relevance. Do you have a culture that embraces change, or are you quickly becoming yesterday's news? Maybe you ought to listen to the buzzwords in your hallways to find out.

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