Agencies must keep up with mobile

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Jon Cook, CEO and president, VML
Jon Cook, CEO and president, VML

As tablets and smartphones evolve into the de facto “remote control” of our lives, the kinds of services that clients are demanding from their agencies is also changing.

The rapidly shifting digital marketing landscape — particularly mobile — has prompted Kansas City-based WPP global digital agency VML and other WPP agencies to rethink strategy, including partnering with outside experts or reconsidering the requisite skill sets for new hires, said Jon Cook, CEO and president of VML.

“In the past, we might have been reluctant to do that because we might have perceived it as a sign of weakness,” Cook said. “Now, because the platforms supporting mobile devices and the development process is changing so rapidly, we can be stronger by partnering with that expertise.”

ComScore MobiLens estimated that during the three months that ended Dec. 31, 2011, 234 million Americans ages 13 or older used a mobile device, and an estimated 97 million Americans now have smartphones.

Along with the proliferation of devices are estimates from eMarketer that mobile ad spending in the U.S. is set to soar 80% in 2012 to $2.61 billion — which illustrates that the need to reach and engage consumers through mobile devices has never been greater.

At the same time, a January 2012 report from the CMO Council found only 36% of CMOs said they were firmly committed to their agencies in 2012, many considering reviews in light of new needs.

The biggest frustration voiced by CMOs, according to the report, is agencies' difficulties in helping them focus on mobile, as well as understand, adapt, evolve and integrate all forms of digital marketing. Twenty-two percent said their current agencies are struggling with that transition, while more than half — 51% — said agencies are behind the times, or are making digital acquisitions but doing a poor job of integrating newly acquired capabilities.

Cook of VML said it is those sentiments that prompted the agency to more closely partner with others, including a mobile-focused WPP sister agency, iconmobile.

As for staffing, Cook said VML focuses on hiring the people who are experts in user experience, strategy and creative. “I think we're getting a lot of talent that have been working at boutiques and who now want to put their talents to work at a larger, more integrated framework,” Cook said.

Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, agreed that both marketers and their agency partners are facing a rapidly shifting paradigm. “There is a frustration out there in that many clients don't feel their needs are being met,” Neale-May said. “But there is also a constantly changing learning curve for everyone, clients and agencies.”

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