Ad Age 2019 A-List No. 10: 360i
Marketers bringing work in-house and choosing one-stop shops are seen as existential threats by many agencies. But 360i was built to roll with that.
The shop began as a regional search agency based in Atlanta, later evolved into a digital creative and media firm and now does work ranging from comprehensive integrated assignments to very focused search, analytics and martech consulting. The combination of comprehensive offerings and flexibility served the Dentsu-owned agency well in 2018, when it did attention-grabbing work on new platforms like voice and began rethinking how clients and agencies work together.
Rather than fight the in-house trend, 360i went with the flow, making it a key subject of its annual senior marketer summit for clients. In one case, the agency embedded employees within a client’s social-media team with full knowledge that it could be a step toward the client taking the function in-house.
“What’s the alternative?” asks 360i New York President Abbey Klaassen. “If we say we won’t help them, then they just go and find another social-media agency.”
In another case, 360i taught a marketer how to do programmatic digital buying in-house. “We could have been territorial, and they would have done it anyway,” says 360i CEO Jared Belsky. Unlike some larger “legacy agencies” designed to be all-or-nothing agencies of record, Belsky says, 360i has long worked as part of a group that offers a la carte services.
Flexibility works well for the agency: 360i had nine integrated accounts among 20 overall wins in 2018; new business came in at more than double the pace of 2017. The agency lost some business in global consolidations by Nestlé and Bose; client Toys “R” Us declared bankruptcy, and Equifax suffered a well-publicized data breach. But new integrated-service clients included Kellogg Co.’s Kashi and Hershey Co.’s Skinny Pop. 360i also added Advance Auto Parts (media and social creative); Dick’s Sporting Goods (search); Discover (performance media); Fox Entertainment (creative); Hudson’s Bay Co. (media); United Airlines (integrated social); and Kroger Co. (integrated digital).
The agency’s Alexa skill “Maze” campaign for HBO’s “Westworld” showed off both 360i’s creative and its ability to work with voice: Users, via Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices, take on the role of one of the robot “hosts” on their quests for sentience. The Alexa skill spans 11,000 lines of script, each with custom-built sound, and 400 actions to choose from across 60 storylines; it also incorporates the voices of 36 actors.
Fans have spent 14 minutes on average with the Maze, which has won 15 industry awards to date, including at the 2018 Clios and London International Awards.
The agency has created proprietary Voice Search Monitor software to fill a gap in search-engine optimization, and developed a Voice Playbook as a how-to guide for marketers from its 20 cross-disciplinary experts.
Keeping up with voice changes how 360i looks for talent, says Belsky, for example by putting more focus on people skilled in natural-language processing. “The supply of voice experts is very low,” says Belsky. “So it’s almost imperative to grow [talent] rather than just pretend you’re going to put up an ad on LinkedIn and have 40 people apply.”
360i’s Advanced Analytics team, which incorporates its MarTech Consultancy, marketing mix modeling and multi-touch attribution, doubled last year and now accounts for 15 percent of headcount. Belsky says competitors typically have 1 percent to 3 percent of their headcount in analytics.
“Ten years ago, you would never have been able to say advertising challenges are often underlined by analytical challenges,” Belsky says. “But now those two are hand-in-hand and clients expect you to handle both.” The result is an interesting range of employees spanning right- and left-brained folks.
One of Klaassen’s favorite moments in 2018 was a meal at a steakhouse in Dallas following a new-business pitch win, where Executive Creative Director Piper Hickman and Mike Bregman dug into a huge, celebratory steak.
“I took a photo and sent it around and said, ‘This is exactly what encapsulates 360i,’” Klaassen says. “I’m not sure any other agency on the planet could deliver the pitch we just delivered.”