The advertising agency of the future: Or the day the music died. Welcome to the iMedia Summit

February 24th, 2008

A long long time I can still remember how the music used to make me smile and I if I had my chance that I could make those people dance and maybe they’d be happy for a while.

Sang Don McLean in American Pie

Indeed and I can remember having my first TV commercial played on TV. How C??l was that? And of course I fell out of love with traditional advertising, its siloed, monolithic approach to communication frustrated me. Yet and yet I believed in the power of communication. That interest has expanded beyond whether traditional advertising works or not – in fact we have a theory and approach to that based on all our research called Engagement Marketing and a book as well.

I asked the girl who sang the blues and asked her for some happy news but she just turned and walked away

sang Don McLean and many did.

It was fascinating then to receive via multiple sources the Forrester report on the Connected Agency.

The authors write

Today’s agencies fail to help marketers engage with consumers, who, as a result, are becoming less brand-loyal and more trusting of each other. To turn the tide, marketers will move to the Connected Agency ? one that shifts: from making messages to nurturing consumer connections; from delivering push to creating pull interactions; and from orchestrating campaigns to facilitating conversations. Over the next five years, traditional agencies will make this shift; they will start by connecting with consumer communities and will eventually become an integral part of them.

It’s why we wrote communities Dominate Brands and why I set up SMLXL – I think looking back everyone agrees we were a bit before our time.

A great deal of the preface of the report is dealt in CDB and on the SMLXL blog. But I like the authors approach

Media Can?t Deliver A Captive Audience Anymore

Consumers have three more reasons to dislike advertising: irrelevance, interruption, and clutter. These come from marketers building media plans on a platform of legacy thinking: Buy exposure to reach as many eyeballs as possible; place your message in a spot where it can?t be missed; and repeat the same message as often as possible. Today?s marketers deal with a media landscape where:

Consumers prefer pull to push and Fragmentation drives complexity whilst Engagement remains theoretical, while reach and frequency reign. Hmm interesting the last point.

As the Ex Coke Steve Heyer CEO said in 2004 ? I am describing a process that is transformational.

Theoretical? – Engagement is not possible whilst the old way of counting the audience remains in place – is the point. Just read Amanda Lotz Believe me I have tried :-( (

This is the battle royal of; effectiveness vs. Efficiency, or recounting the audience.

And the report say a new de?nition of ?mass media? is emerging. yes its called hyper-local or super-global or mass niche communities of interest.

We do know that – or we should know that – or we should be actively engaged with that truth.

And then Operational Processes Can?t Cope well we/SMLXL did say that back in 2004

This is not about Schadenfreude, but it is about; when you don’t look hard enough, when you don’t ask the right questions at the right time – what happens then to peoples lives, their jobs, their families etc.? Is this part of the bigger cycle of technological revolutions.? Lives are lost forever as they are cast aside and into the wake of the progress. Some resist, some leave and many stay behind

We are about to ask the advertising industry to go from GCSE standard to PHD overnight!

What is going to happen to the people that can’t make the grade?

Yet what I see is that the advertising industry is about to get its moment of punctuated equilibrium the with the consequent results.

Back to the report…

Senior marketers have turned to agencies for help but have found that most don?t have the proper skills or structure to assist. In a Q4 2006 Forrester survey, marketers gave their collective agencies a Net Promoter score of minus 21%, meaning that agencies are currently creating many more
detractors than promoters.12 So why do agencies continue to thrive? As one advertising director at a
high-tech ?rm told us, ?They?re a necessary evil.? The problem? Agencies are organized around skills.

A necessary evil – and what skills I ask?

Well its like this

While the market fragments around channels and skills, the connection between the vocal consumer and consumer-centered marketer gets ?lled with static from multiple agencies ?ghting for attention. Who will help marketers tune in to the consumer signal? Agencies that listen to what consumers
say and that can translate that into action for advertisers. Forrester calls such a player a Connected
Agency, de?ned as:

An agency with a deep understanding of consumer communities, helping brands create and nurture
connections, deliver targeted, on-demand messages, and network for talent and insights. The Connected Agency will remold all its competencies to engage with distinctly and tightly targeted consumer groups, each driven by a common objective, interest, or passion. We?ve called these groups consumer communities. The more entwined and de?ned each community, the better.

Back in 2003 I never saw it like that – I just saw that there was already enough evidence to challenge the orthodoxies of Marketing Communication in all its varied forms.

I hope many will read this report and reflect on what the next five years will hold for them, as I would suggest, the decisions they make today will fundamentally affect their futures.

But its a big effort, Unlearning, coupled with learning, new organisational structures, new competencies and capability realised – geek meets creative. I loved it when it happened to me :-) on and on and on, and, NO siloes – no above and below.

What I have witnessed from the UK until now is a somewhat blas? approach based upon a set of laurels earnt many years ago and that is why I am proud to be part of the iMedia conference on looking at the new world of advetrising and marketing in St Albans on the 9-10-11 March 2008 as its Chairman over 3 days that I am very much looking forward to.

I was once told by the MD/CEO of a big communication company in the UK, that, I was a Pioneer and that, pioneers tended to get shot – well I hope that that certain gentleman has bought his ticket – because our once familiar analogue world is fast disappearing, and, we need to navigate together our digital universe. All the key people from the UK advertising will be at this event and I think it will be the very first time that an entire industry is focused on its own survival.

Therefore we have to ask ourselves: Does the advertising industry want to go the same way as the music industry? What is advertising in the 21st Century? How do we migrate from a model of interruption to engagement? What are the skill sets and organizational capability required? What is creativity? How does one reach and deliver the right audience and count that audience? Change the way you count and you change the flow of advertising ???. How does the agency of the 21st Century derive its revenues and profits? What are the role of brands? And, why are we so obsessed with silos of specialisation?

I am deeply encouraged that the UK advertising industry is prepared to collaborate together, sharing in dialogue and debate how they might evolve to survive.

I sincerely hope that we will have 2 days of great debate, insight and learning and that this will help the advertising industry form a world view of what we urgently need to do to adapt and survive. As Darwin said, “Its not the strongest or most intelligent that survive but those most adaptive to change.”

  1. One Response to “The advertising agency of the future: Or the day the music died. Welcome to the iMedia Summit”

  2. By David Cushman on Feb 25, 2008

    Hi Alan. Thought-provoking stuff as always.
    My answer to some of your questions is in a white paper I made available a short time ago (download it here:

    Also have a view about a key reason ‘ads’ fail when they are applied to networked aggregators of content and conversation (such as facebook).

    Posted about that here:

    Provoked quite a comment storm!

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