Memories of an old advertising agency model… the now of brand engagement
Over the past few months I’ve been busy at work with pitches, new client accounts and super fun projects and haven’t had much time to put my thoughts into writing. However, a few observations over the last 8 months have led me down an expressive path.
Working in the advertising has taught me to be a better marketer.
Working in “advertising” can mean many, many things. Gone are the days of Mad Men where the “creative agency” developed a mass marketing image campaign and witty headline to live for months/years at a time.
Working in advertising can mean you have small or large focus on a specific area:
- sell advertising (ie: selling space for ads to live next to relevant content/within your demographic readership aka media buying)
- creatively develop content and campaigns that live in that space
- sell an analytical service to track media impressions and overall brand lift
- execute small ideas on a project basis for a small niche agency/company
- work in a large multi-service agency working across cross-functional promotional arenas such promotion, PR, media, analytics
- all of the above
I realize now that growing up in account services, I always had an underlying tie to strategy and had trouble understanding “do this” direction without understanding the core premise of where the direction came from and what insights supported certain ideas. I was always told by peers and certain supervisors that I ask too many questions, that I don’t need to know why, “just do the project” but that was never comforting for me and now I know why.
Observationally speaking, working at an advertising agency with AOR (agency of record) accounts/clients has changed dramatically over the years. 7 years ago our teams didnt have heavy involvement in strategic brand planning. EVPs/SVPs usually held meetings with clients keeping up with relationships and taking them to dinner or golf outings. Agency teams rarely interacted with senior staff at that level. I haven’t seen behavior like that since 2007/2008 when the agency staffing model changed dramatically to accommodate myriad industry shifts:
- changing economic climate
- subsequent decreased and more scrutinized client marketing budget allocation, which not only included promotional spend but touched across their own client staff resource allocation
- Ever-changing and evolving consumer-centric model & myriad promotional channels beyond the traditional print, broadcast and radio
And who was looked at first?—the agency of record.
If you had letters in your title you were not only expected to keep business current, solid and profitable for the agency- but clients started to ask for greater input—what were you contributing at a $300/hour billing rate, aside from prime tee-times? Where was the thinking that stood behind that latest campaign—did we think it could be executed via 1 mass marketing message through the same channels as we always have been? What kind of return were we promising the brand beyond “message recall”? Those “coveted” positions with 3 initials were quickly becoming measurable in their own right. And the dropoff rate for successful KPIs was high.
Within that timeframe my account service responsibilities changed as well. No longer was I just a day-today client direction taker and internal agency facilitator of said direction; I was an extended member of the client brand team. I think it was in 2008 as the customer-centric model of engagement became more relevant to every brand and shifted from customer relationship marketing (CRM) into the form of custom marketing via target segmentation/preference of communication that I saw my role of the agency acct lead shift much more to accommodate a growing need beyond just ideation & execution into the hybrid addition of strategic thinking.
Enter the role of “strategic planner”
Back in the day planners were a bit of an anomaly, they mostly worked directly with market research group at the client and sourced qualitative and quantitative methodologies for product launches or bringing new campaigns to market. Since 2007, I have seen the greatest shift in that position, and the service value it offers to clients and brands.
Planners are the new marketers of the agency world.
We understand and are expected to help identify insights that would ultimately inform and shape immediate and long range brand planning. I have had the fortunate opportunity to be included in all forms of brand building allowing me greater exposure to marketing workshops & exercises with established consultancies like Monitor Group, 6th Sense and Campbell Alliance; strategic identification processes which outlined the customer buying processes; attitudes and behaviors that drive HOW and WHY and WHERE brands should engage their targets and through what levels of emphasis that will engender the greatest return on effort.
But, it never stops at the strategic level
We also help take the brand plan, dissect and disseminate into larger agency team brainstorms to help shape it into recommendations; an actionable and well rounded tactical communication plan that would secure activation across all cross-functional stakeholders within the marketing group. T-shaped individuals, loosely defined as creative technologists, which I wrote about back in December, can do much bigger things and think more broadly.
The vertical shaft of the “T” represents the depth of expertise/skill that a person exhibits, while the crossbar of the “T” represents the amount they are willing and able to collaborate
They are looking for ideation beyond 1 honed skill set, and most importantly how to apply/execute it to meet a business objective of their clients and customers. They are people who are willing to experiment and take risks– in concert with rest of the world morphing around us in parallel. Having spent months at a time building the business plans, the tactical ideation and channel planning is where the real fun comes in. Some planners like to end their contribution at the strategic level, most I know, including myself, also enjoy the ideation & execution part. Understanding drivers for your audience/target is only half the battle; performing a current promotional audit, identifying opportunities for scale and knowing how to wrap the brand drivers around multi-channels of engagement and create experiences that engender the most behavioral change that ultimately fuel the objectives of your brand is where the real pull through comes in.
Had it not been for this hybrid shift, I don’t know that I would have continued my career trajectory within “advertising”.
Being involved in the overall marketing process inherently makes more sense to me. I think– actually, I know, what keeps me most passionate about my “job” is that my role is ever evolving. Specific tasks and thinking may be tied to one another, but it’s rare that I ever do the same exact thing on any given day. And regardless of the brand industry you are in, the strategic construct and process remains the same.
Marketing by far is the greatest passion in my “job”. So much so because of my personal interest that sometimes it doesn’t feel like a job and it’s just plain interesting and fun. Self-satisfaction is a subjective arena; fulfilled only through individual goals, wants and needs. If the strategic marketing process and ever-evolving promotional landscape keeps me an perpetual student, so be it– sign me up for an eternity of semester long learning’s.