As the digital ecosystem becomes more sophisticated, agencies of all shapes, sizes and specialisations have newer fields to play in, having to upgrade their offerings bearing in mind the changing market dynamics.
As the digital ecosystem becomes more sophisticated, agencies of all shapes, sizes and specialisations have newer fields to play in, having to upgrade their offerings bearing in mind the changing market dynamics. Joanna Catalano of iProspect on her recent visit to India talks to BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali about the changing agency environment, clients’ ease with data usage in their strategies, the need for future-proofing and more. Edited excerpts:
How are clients navigating the decision making process of opting for an agency versus going to a tech company?
The industry is a bit stuck here, if I am honest, and agencies know this. If a global pitch comes out, it still tends to go to big media agencies. Big media agencies behave very differently from tech companies. Usually, when these big pitches come out, we as iProspect play an important role in the broader pitch team.
Agencies are not at a point where they compete against consultancies in pitches, but then again, they don’t have to, because they are competing with them on project based work; analytics would be one example. If we want to have deep relationships with our clients, we need to be able to speak much more strategically and understand their business; we need a particular talent profile in addition to specialists.
The likes of Google have a massive advantage over us. They have a lot of people servicing their business, they have time to spend and their client leaders know their verticals. One of the things we have been talking about at a global level at iProspect is that we have a natural coalescence in verticals such as travel, financial services and retail. We do not have named vertical specialists. Should we? Yes. Are we moving in that direction? Absolutely.
Agencies are typically seen as reactive. What is your take on this?
It depends on the agency. We are a specialist shop. We are not a tech company, but everything that we do is driven by data and technology. So we have to create our own proprietary technology and tools. Will we become a tech company? No, not in its pure sense. Are we vying for the same talent pool that tech firms go for? Definitely. If I think about what our talent base needs to be a year from now, there will be a significant shift in terms of whom we recruit.
Do agencies get caught up in marketing buzzwords?
You cannot service everything. We have been very deliberate in terms of where we want to focus. There is no way an agency can be all things to all people. The development and effectiveness of creative is very important to what we do. But that does not mean that I am going to hire a bunch of designers and creatives for it. I am part of a network and we would rather look for ways to partner with our sister brands to be able to deliver that to our clients.
By the nature of what we do, our clients come with a pretty sophisticated understanding. If you are working with a client who is informed, you will have less of a challenge in having an honest conversation. Everyone wants to work with new economy businesses. Companies like Uber and Airbnb already have massive in-house teams. Back in the day, Expedia was born out of Microsoft and those teams understood things really well. These, then, become extremely challenging clients. Agencies need to keep asking themselves what value they can add and how they can reinvent themselves. Agencies will have to get much better at it.
So agencies should be looking at a complete overhaul?
No, that would be too extreme. I am talking about future-proofing and doing it with a speed that agencies have not adopted before. It will take courage and investment. If looked at clearly, the agency value proposition is very different. The systems implementation consultancy side is not fast in changing either. They can go and buy agencies but that is not easy.
But it is happening…
Of course, because in some areas, it makes more sense to buy. But then, they will have to deal with integrating that talent and thinking about what the strategy will be. It requires a different level of forward planning and thinking; until now, agencies have centred on responding to events — a very tactical approach, but it does not work. I do not think it is a complete overhaul but a reinvention.
Do you see segmentation or targeting changing?
Consumers are a lot more discerning in terms of what they shop, what they read and how they utilise digital. Ten years ago, you could talk about, say, 26 touchpoints but those were very different days. People ask, is digital measurable? Digital is as measurable as you set it up to be. If you talk about search, the digital metrics are clear. If you add display or video, followed by a layer of trading offline or online, one has to start with a measurement strategy simply to understand these. You have to know what you are measuring, not just what digital metrics are available. A lot of people skip this step. For the longest time, nobody in performance wanted to move away from the last click.
Are agencies doing a good job of understanding client businesses or briefs?
Agencies should move away from briefs and campaigns completely. Do agencies do it a little bit? Yeah. Do we do it enough? No. Having said that, I do not think it is easy to do. It is, however, easy for the right talent profile. Agencies fall down because they do not spend enough time thinking about that top profile. You can build this within an agency structure but you have to be deliberate about it.
One of the big changes I have made is to separate the client leadership from the day-to-day running of the business. We are doing this in Singapore as a test market and will roll it out in other markets. We want to be exceptional in campaign strategy and campaign execution, which needs a different focus versus client leadership. So on the servicing side, we will have specialist teams and a central command with sub-specialisms under it. The person at the command will know everything that is happening, how campaigns are performing, which metrics are up or down, where is the opportunity for upsell — all of those fine details. The client servicing person just has to go to that one point. We do not want to be a consultancy. Agencies are uniquely positioned for a certain piece of the consultancy business when we are talking about adtech and martech. Our level of experience warrants us a bigger voice at that table.