What I believe (this morning)

I’ve just spent two and a half days down at the iMedia Agency Summit in Brighton, spending some time with some of the industries finest and most diverse brains, essentially talking about ‘where next’…

…rather than liveblogging during, I thought I’d see how how felt when I woke up on the day after in finished… what do I believe about the world now as a result? 

In no particular order…

i) “You’re going to miss us when we’re gone” is not a viable business model

We heard from Luke Johnson, Channel 4 chairman, on the threat to the business model of broadcasters.  He said that it’d be a terrific shame for the UK society if we lost the ability to create powerful and stirring programming like Red Riding (which was excellent)… it would be a cultural loss for us all.  Which is true; Channel 4 has produced some terrific, valuable cultural artefacts over the years.

But at the same time, it’s not enough to claim that this is a valuable service so advertisers must keep paying for it and supporting it.  If an agency’s role is to find the best way to connect a client company and the people it wants to talk to, and there are better and more compelling ways to do that in the modern world, then so be it.  It’s a harsh, stark reality… but unfortunately true.

ii) It doesn’t matter that “Google doesn’t understand content/communications/advertising…”

One of the first sessions was on the effect Google was having on agencies, media owners and so on.  During the debate, someone in the audience stated that the problem with Google was that it ‘didn’t understand content’ (or something along those lines).

The truth is, it really doesn’t matter at all what Google don’t understand about content, communications, advertising and so on.  It’s a complete game changer.

It’s a bit like two stablehands watching Stephenson’s Rocket go past for the first time, upon which one says to the other “yeah, but he doesn’t really understand horses, does he?”


iii) Innovation & Measurement

There’s an Edward De Bono definition of ‘innovation’ which runs along the lines of “Innovation = Creativity that delivers Value”, and it’s the one that nicely wraps up the debate on the topic. 

There’s little point spending time and effort on creative thoughts and ideas that aren’t going to deliver value to clients, or indeed to the company you work for yourself. 

But what became clear as the debate moved into judging ‘value’, is that while measurement is really important, it’s dragging us down. 

The debate itself was the perfect illustration of the problem; too little time spent of developing the inspiring ideas and the smart thinking, followed by too long spent on a roomful of people grappling with a tidal wave of measurement.

I think we need to be much smarter about how we cherry pick the most important measures and metrics for the work we do, and help our clients focus on these.  We must spend more of our time being innovative, rather than trying to measure exactly how innovative we’ve been.

As Einstein pointed out, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”


iv) Agency structures need to change, yet we persist with the old ones

We had a good round table chat with a wide variety of agencies; big and small, media, creative, PR & social, and it was quite clear that everyone really wanted to work together better, yet the way in which clients put agencies together was not necessarily conducive to achieving that…

…so when the creative is pitched one year, followed by media the net, then a third the fourth team brought in the following year, the realtionships between those agencies is going to take time to develop.  By which time, there will be a new marketing director who’ll start the pitch process all over again.

Solutions?  Well, you could have a consortium approach, where all agencies are asked to form teams and pitch together, or you could ask a network to build you a consortium from their ranks of different agencies.  You could remunerate all agencies on the same structure, so they are driven to share in group success.

In reality, it depends on the client, the circumstances, the job to be done.  But the feeling is that while the world has been changing fast, the agency world hasn’t been fast enough yet to respond.

v) We used to reach a million to affect a thousand.  Why not now just reach the thousand?

A final point… and perhaps the elephant in the room at the conference.  We are an industry built around reaching out to a million people in order to affect a small proportion of them for our clients.  It’s embedded in the language we use, the business models we’ve created, even some of the ideas we suggest and persist with.

However the opportunity exists to build conversations and relationships with the thousand people we originally wanted to affect in the first place… and if we create a great relationship between our clients and them, they will be more likely to be loyal, enthusiastic advocates of that company and their products. 

Which is better for the company and the people.  So I guess the big question is what role will the agency play in that world..?