"Leading the pack of challenges is ad blocking"
Mike Amour, Chairman and CEO, Asia Pacific, Havas Group
In this age of digital disruption, there is unrelenting pressure on the standard, stand-alone media agency model. Advertisers, publishers, ad networks, and agencies are undergoing massive challenges that call for a more strategic and innovative approach to problem solving.
Leading the pack of challenges is ad blocking. It’s not new, but the increasing ease with which people can block ads is alarming. Ad blocking goes hand in hand with two other big issues gripping the industry – viewability and ad fraud. Cleaning up the programmatically traded supply chain (which does not start and stop with the media agency) and investing larger and larger sums of money into tech solutions that attempt to mitigate ad fraud and inappropriate ad placement is one way of looking at things.
However, overcoming trust issues resulting from transparency challenges requires a deep look at how we mend the fractured relationship between advertisers and consumers. This needs advertisers, publishers and ad networks/agencies to work together to ensure a seamless user experience.
The other key challenge is the emergence of competitive non-traditional players. Media owners like Google, Facebook, YouTube and Amazon control inventory pricing and circumvent the traditional role of the agency, while the encroachment of consultancy players and tech platforms such as Adobe into programmatically-traded media intensifies the challenges. The evolution of in-house media trading teams means that “hybrid” models are on the rise with media agencies doing more of the execution rather than the planning.
Going forward, how fast (and smart) agencies adapt and break silos will play a key role in determining the future.
"Asia’s diversity implies that a one-size-fits-all blanket approach will not work"
Takaki Hibino, executive chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network APAC
The two biggest challenges facing the agency business in Asia are upskilling talent to keep up with the fast pace of development of digital technologies and developing tailored local strategies catering to the vast diversity of the region.
It is critical to build relevant skills to keep up with the scale and exponential pace of change caused by digital technology adoption in Asia Pacific. The region already accounts for more than half of the world’s 3 billion smartphone users, leads globally in e-commerce sales of over US$1.9 trillion and consequently digital transformation is expected contribute over US$1 trillion to Asia Pacific’s GDP by 2021.
While the principles of marketing haven’t changed, how marketing strategies are implemented is now significantly dependent on technology. Agencies are a people driven business with a wealth of domain knowledge, equipped with the principles of good marketing and the skills to leverage these new technologies. To cater to the rapid pace of technological development in the region agencies will need to build a synergistic approach which blends people and tech capabilities to be ahead of the game. This will mean investing in upskilling talent, building centres of excellence to experiment with new innovations and having an open partnership approach leveraging the best marketing technologies.
Asia is a two-speed place, so we must also develop strategies catering to the immense diversity of the region. For example, smartphone penetration in South Korea is over 80% while in Indonesia it is just over 40%. By 2020 age dependency ratio – those above 65 years old – in Hong Kong will be 26.5% while in the Philippines it will be just 8%. Asia’s diversity implies that a one-size-fits-all blanket approach will not work. Agencies need to overcome this challenge by having tailored strategies to build out local market capabilities – that is, 'glocalised' strategies with a bottom-up approach, starting with a sound understanding of local market needs.
"The latest waves of talent expect a full degustation menu of experiences"
Tony Harradine, APAC CEO, OMG
I’m sure many organisations will tell you that the talent equation in our industry is rapidly changing and remains a significant challenge for any employer in a people-based service industry. Long gone are the days when professionals stuck to one job for life and aspired to climb the ranks. Today, it is perfectly acceptable among millennials to have resumes with short stints, and the latest waves of talent expect a full degustation menu of experiences as opposed to one big meal.
That said, our craft as marketing professionals is also changing with similar shifts in consumer behaviours, and there is a real opportunity for those organisations dynamic enough to evolve their practices accordingly. This involves creating new roles and workplaces that engage and extract the optimal output from these new waves of talent, including developing a sense of value exchange, career and location mobility, and ongoing mentorship.
An additional challenge is how multinational organisations strike the right balance in being globally consistent, yet truly local in every market. Given the incredible diversity of APAC, with markets in different maturation stages and each facing their own economic and socio-political conditions, how do we create consistency in our product but appeal to the local flavours of each market? However, this is the very reason that agencies exist – to navigate these complexities for our clients and simplify the ways in which they can engage with their consumers in an everchanging ecosystem.
"Ensure that the talent entering our industry is not bogged down only by the mundane"
Amrita Randhawa, CEO Asia Pacific, Executive Chair Greater China at Mindshare
The things that keep me thinking are talent and automation. On the talent front I see a much more nuanced force entering our industry. In all my conversations with young people joining the industry, the consistent question I get is around purpose. How can we help them find a way to blend their personal passions and sense of purpose with the work they are doing every day? This is a challenge for agencies and clients to unite around because it is also what consumers in Asia are showing increasing sensitivity towards – how you are blending good for business and good for the community.
The exit interviews I read see more of the top performers going out of the industry entirely, rather than to other agencies. In this region it’s often to start ups and areas where they feel they have the opportunity to take risks and develop ideas that are off the beaten path. Again, something for clients and agencies to work together on to ensure there is an opportunity for more bravery at work and an allowance for risk taking.
The automation piece is also critical to ensure that the talent entering our industry is not bogged down only by the mundane. Without a genuine effort (not cool marketing ploys to grab a headline or two in trade press) to solve the day-to-day, execution-heavy workload that kills any time and space to think, we will not stop losing fantastic people who could go on to change the industry for the better. It’s an area that will never be “cool” when it comes to use of tech but will perhaps make the single biggest difference to our industry. When you have some of the best automation thinking coming out from Shenzhen to Singapore to Bangalore there is simply no reason why this region is not setting the pace for developments in this pace for our industry.
"The biggest challenge facing the industry is productivity"
Leigh Terry, CEO, IPG Mediabrands APAC
Some people say talent, others say trust. Both are critical.
However, I think the biggest challenge facing the industry is productivity. Improvement here would have a direct impact on talent, trust and a myriad of other cultural factors, to say nothing of our finances. Our media game has evolved – it now includes the world of programmatic, increasing fragmentation and all of the other industry bullshit bingo. If agencies cannot provide sufficient value improvement for clients, as well as for our own business, then some may argue we no longer have a reason to exist.
Smarter, better and faster is what all clients want in any category, and survival of the fittest means that some will become extinct and/or obsolete. My favourite (business) book is Only the Paranoid Survive by the late Andy Grove, who was the CEO of Intel: as agencies we like to talk to clients about efficiency and effectiveness, but rarely do we discuss the same subjects in the context of our own businesses. Hopefully, healthy paranoia can be manifest in our words and deeds in this forthcoming Year of the Pig. Let’s not be last to the party.
(This article first appeared on CampaignAsia.com)