Technology recasts agency role, say Advertising Week panelists

The pace of change in the marketing world, especially the emergence of new technologies, has made agencies more indispensable to brands and their CMOs, John Partilla, COO of Dentsu Network West, told attendees of Advertising Week’s Bloomberg roundtable on Oct. 4 in New York.

As clients shift more of their budgets into social media, he said, a knowledge gap involving social and other innovations makes agencies more valuable in terms of support, as long as those agencies are ahead of the technological curve. “Clients are relying on their agencies as business partners,” he said.

However, the perception still persists that marketing via social media is less expensive than other channels, said Colle & McVoy president and CEO Christine Fruechte. “Clients believe that shifting from traditional to nontraditional will save money,” she said, but that is not necessarily the case when it comes to executing a successful campaign.

Panel moderator Felix Gillette, a writer for Bloomberg Businessweek, noted that less costly technology has allowed more businesses to compete using the latest tools.

“These days, the cost has come down so that pretty much anyone with a laptop and some cloud computing can start a business,” he said, creating the phenomenon of the 19-year-old CEO.

New technologies, especially in the social media space, have bolstered data-driven marketing, Partilla said, but data should not be the sole factor of a campaign. He shared a cautionary tale: One of his clients had its feature film flop last summer, even though data beforehand had suggested it would perform well. “The client was saying, ‘We don’t understand. The data said the film should have opened up better. We thought we had a runaway hit on our hands.’”

Partilla blamed an ineffective launch campaign for the movie’s failure. “Somehow they lost the art in the science,” he said. “You need to bring the two together.”

This is where agencies can provide added value to clients. By encouraging an integrated approach that incorporates not only traditional direct marketing methods but newer channels, agencies can help clients build their brands in a way that resonates with today’s consumer, panelists agreed.

Creativity remains key, said Maria Luisa Francoli, global CEO of MPG, though “some creative people will have to accept that algorithms can show what works and what doesn’t work,” she said.

Traditional marketing channels, including DRTV, email marketing and print media, are hardly dead, no matter the conventional wisdom, said Partilla.

Nick Brien, chairman and CEO of McCann WorldGroup, concurred, adding that he is “in awe of how swiftly magazines completely reinvented themselves around the tablet.”

“Everything that is old can be new again,” Partilla said. “If you want to survive, forget old and new media: you need relevant media.”

Donald Coleman, president and CEO of GlobalHue, likened those clients still resistant to investing in marketing via emerging media channels to The Titanic, saying that while they want results, “they don’t want to change their paradigm.”

“Some clients are living off the fumes of a past business model,” agreed Brien. The goal, he said, should be to take advantage of the “ability to connect people, then experiences, then passions, around a common purpose.”

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