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The blurred lines among agencies, brands, and media companies

Posted by Kyle Montero on December 9th, 2013 at 1:52 am

Agencies face major challenges today. Many marketers fear a loss of power and relevance that comes from ceding responsibility of campaign elements to brands and media companies. And, at times, this fear seems well-founded. For instance, 2013 was a huge year for content marketing. Capitalizing on this trend, publishers like Buzzfeed began to offer creative services directly to brands, essentially eliminating the role agencies in these kinds of partnerships. However, after the initial fear of partnerships like these subsides, self-assured marketers will realize that there will always be a place for agencies at the table. The key is understanding how to navigate the increasingly complex relationship between agencies, brands, and media companies. At the iMedia Agency Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz., industry experts addressed the blurring lines between agencies, brands, and media companies, as well as explored the new workflow structures these blurred lines create.

The panel, entitled "Blurring lines: Demystifying roles and workflow," featured five influential industry heavyweights, whom introduced themselves to the crowd. Carol Kruse is the global CMO of Tough Mudder LLC, where she oversees the global marketing for a brand that touts itself as "Probably the toughest event on the planet." Jorge Ruiz is the agency measurement lead at Facebook, where he helps marketers scale their Facebook measurement. Cecelia Wogan-Silva is the director of creative agency development at Google, where she leads agency development. Scott Symonds works to deliver audience, engagement, and insight to client brands as the managing director of AKQA Media. And, this impressive group of individuals was moderated by Jason Heller, the CEO of Agiliti, Inc.

Heller led the panel by posing a number of interesting questions -- a few of which, along with some of the answers, are detailed below:

Heller: Are agencies failing in some areas? Is that a reason why publishers and ad tech companies are going directly to clients?

According to Kruse, it's important to take on the client's point of view. "Without the client, there is no money, there is no advertising." What the client really does not want is for everything to go through a filter. As Kruse explained, "I always like to go directly to publishers. Part of it is because I want to learn." Even though, as a client, your agency may not want you to go directly to a publisher, it's valuable from a learning perspective. According to Kruse, in a hypothetical reference to speaking with an agency, "I'll tell you when I'm going. I will never talk about money. But I have to learn, and [publishers] have to learn my business, and sometimes that direct conversation is valuable without an agency filter." However, this is not to say that agencies should be bypassed. According to Kruse, the real magic happens when the agency, publisher, technology provider, and the client are working together at the same time. But what are extremely important are direct conversations among all parties.

According to Wogan-Silva, collaboration is extremely important as well. However, everyone falls down (agencies, clients, publishers, etc.) when you get into this "mine game" (i.e. the protection of certain responsibilities as a form of misguided self-preservation).

Heller: What do you do to ensure that there is an interrelationship and that all parties are working together?

According to Ruiz, it's critical that agency partners are at the table. As he explained, "strategic planning is so important." It is what brings ideas to life. For Ruiz, it's crucial to have the agency at the table because the creative must fit perfectly into the targeted campaign: "I need to have the right idea come to life, and I need to have it executed properly." As Kruse explained, "You can have the best targeted media placement in the world, but if your storytelling isn’t there, and it's not a relevant message, then it's all for not." Furthermore, Kruse explained, "The creative should inform the buy, should inform the creative." So, it's very important to ensure that collaboration is occurring among all parties.

Heller: What happens when collaboration doesn't work?

According to Symonds, collaboration is a major challenge when "the agenda for monetary growth with a Google or a Facebook [for instance] feels like its exceeding what an agency might plan." But this monetary tension is actually a good thing, as it promotes growth. Furthermore, Wogan-Silva reiterated Symonds point by explaining that collaboration issues come down to money. "It's always about money. That's where it always goes wrong. The growth goals you have in mind versus the growth goals I have in mind."

Heller: Is there an area in the industry that is under-served by all parties?

As Wogan-Silva explained, advertising is an adaptive industry, but nobody is being paid to bring all the information together. It's mainly on the shoulders of the client. So, integration is an area that must improve. According to Kruse, a huge opportunity still remains to tap the potential of mobile advertising. As she explained, mobile is "so tech-driven that it's almost overwhelming from the client's side." In the future, it will be important to figure out how to collaborate to make mobile really effective.

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