The Forum discussions at Spikes Asia 2014 kicked off with Niall Mckinney, founder CEO, The Knowledge Engineers engaging Sean O’Brien, CEO, Carat Asia Pacific; Aseem Puri, senior director or marketing, Fabric Cleaning Asia, Unilever; and Paul Roebuck, CEO, Singapore and Malaysia, Saatchi & Saatchi in a discussion about the ‘Agency of the Future’.
McKinney started off with findings from research conducted by his company along with Campaign Asia Pacific. It covered 8,200 respondents across media, advertising and marketing industries (1,400 from Asia) to figure what were the main issues they faced.
There were three clear challenges that emerged:
Consumers are evolving faster than agencies
McKinney said, “Only 25 per cent of the people feel confident that their organisation is ready for the digital challenge. Ninety per cent of the media buying by 2017 will probably be programmatic, which is another cause of concern for the agencies. As marketers we are way behind consumer behaviour. We (as consumers) use five to six different devices a day and that’s where marketers are lacking. There’s a clear innovation gap. In our survey we found out that 67 per cent of the respondents said that the biggest barrier to change was the commitment of the senior management. 78 per cent attributed it to lack of understanding. The number one reason though was the lack of digital leadership.”
The second challenge that emerged from the research was the lack of technical skills. The speaker explained, “Programmatic will be the dominant source of media buying. These are technical skills and not artistic. In our survey we asked about digital and only Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong had respondents who were confident about handing the medium. Asia at 31 per cent (overall) was 10 per cent above the global number of people confident of handling digital.”
“We saw a strong request of staff to have a more innovative organisational structure. 58 per cent of the CMOs thought the structure hinders them,” said McKinney.
He then introduced the panel and brought them into the discussion.
We need to be real time
His first question was to Unilever’s Puri on whether there exists a real need for the 'agency of the future' (or are things going fine).
Puri responded, “No they are not. Consumers change first, brands second and agencies third. My consumers are already online. In Vietnam (which is one of our largest markets), we have consumers (who could be housewives) online for more than 50 per cent of their time. But we can’t match them online for 52 weeks of the year with engaging content. We have the odd campaign online, but yes we need to engage them through the year. So, we need to be real time and in order to do so, we are probably moving away from agencies to bloggers and journalists to help us reach that audience.”
Coming into the discussion, Roebuck said, “The consumer is ahead of you, so you have to keep changing. Most of the agencies are changing already, some have moved quicker than the other to match the needs of the consumers."
On media agencies and their role in the time of change, O’Brien reflected, “The industry is largely driven by consumers. If you look at media now – Google and Facebook have taken over the world. You need a structure that is flexible enough and you need talent who can handle controlled chaos. It’s something we’ve done with Philips - set up a real time response for conversations. We can’t do this alone as media agencies and need collaboration with other agencies.”
Puri added, “Firstly, nomenclature needs to change. People need to stop saying they’re working with advertising agencies and instead say they’re working with content generating firms instead. It’s now a lot about creating content that is promoted. Big companies might be keen to keep media agencies and creative agencies separate for purposes such as auditing. But, this might change in the next five years and you could be looking at more collaboration.”
McKinney then brought talent in to focus. He asked Carat’s O’Brien about whether the agency was looking to bring in 'different' talent. He answered, “I always look for people how are passionate about the industry and not just those who want jobs. But, you also have to look for people with skill with stuff like programmatic coming in.”
On the topic, Saatchi’s Roebuck said, “We look for people with the right values and buy into vision. We are learning about how we can bring in people from even outside the advertising industry."
Unilever’s Puri responded before speaking about Unilever seeing itself in a 'non-ideal situation' with agencies: “We’re looking at bloggers who have set up hot shops. So, we’re seeing brands like us in a (not ideal) situation of having up to 15 different digital or social agencies. We are spending around 10 to 30 per cent of our total advertising budgets, on social media globally. Unilever has started setting up small in-house content studios to encourage marketers to come with content.”
O’Brien noted, “What we are seeing in the agency world is that both fragmentation and integration is happening right now. First, we saw separation (of advertising and media agencies), now we’re seeing media agencies acquiring agencies. A lot of acquisitions are happening, and I may add that some of them are weird decisions.”
Roebuck surmised with a word about ‘real-time labs set up in agencies’. He said, “Creating a lab is a good thing, but you need to scale it up into an agency with the right vision. It requires chosen collaborations with clients.”