Thoughts from 3 events I attended at #AWEurope

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a few events at Advertising Week Europe.

Guardian leadership breakfast

The Guardian leadership breakfast saw the CEOs of Radium One, Criteo and GoViral in a conversation with Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian. The audience questions were particularly interesting.

Mark Mendoza of Havas Media asked about the role of agencies when media startups like those on the panel can (and do) work with clients directly. I have been thinking about this a fair bit myself, given my involvement with Omnicom’s Innovation Group at work. In most cases, the clients that work with these startups directly are the biggest ones with the resources to invest, who understand what they can get out of it. The vast majority look to agencies for guidance, and that’s where we play a big role. Mark and the panel both agreed that it is a collaborative approach that includes clients, media agencies and creative agencies that will be the dominating business model of the future – indeed it is today – and anyone who doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand the business we’re in. Media agencies will often have the upper hand because of their media-buying role that directly impacts what technology gets used to increase client efficiency, but that doesn’t mean creative will or should sit it out, because the very model of the agency is changing.

The panel mentioned how Nike is known to have said they don’t need advertising because their products like the Nike Fuelband do their marketing for them. They also have access to vast amounts of data through which directly informs their messages to their audience, and informs product evolution.

Nancy Cruickshank from Weve asked the panel what kinds of data would be important in the future, to which the response was social data and intent data. Social data expands the reach of brand messaging and also provides context (such as through location for example), and intent data often leads to sales and has a clear link to ROI. Advertising is now moving up the funnel, plugging into what people are doing and saying on the web, and if we can link that to purchase that’s a big win. Gurbaksh Chahal from Radium One mentioned how Neiman Marcus in the US, a client of theirs, saw a 5% uplift in sales after using their technology to analyse people’s social conversations.

The mobile issue obviously made an appearance: the average Facebook user in the US spends 8.5 hours a month accessing Facebook on mobile vs. 6.5 on desktop. There will naturally be more investment in mobile. But the key is for brands to understand the device: mobiles know location-specific information and brands who fail to understand mobility and think of the mobile as just another touchpoint, fail to to understand its unique benefits.

Channel 4 leadership breakfast

The Channel 4 leadership breakfast saw David Abraham (Channel 4’s CEO), Farah Ramzan Golant (ex-Chairwoman of AMV BBDO, now CEO of All3Media), Kirstie Allsop (TV personality of Location Location Location fame) and Simon Wells (Head of IP and Entertainment Formats at PHD’s Omnicom sister agency Drum) speaking to Cathy Newman from Channel 4 News about the new economics of content. Simon Wells referenced Drum’s work on ‘What’s Cooking in the Sainsbury’s Kitchen’ which I’m quite familiar with thanks to PHD’s Sainsbury’s team. He said that short form ads don’t engage the way content does, and even with content there has to be a strategy for different platforms. For example, with ‘What’s Cooking’, 12 minutes of online-only content is produced for each show that airs on TV. The panel agreed that advertiser-funded programming (AFP) could grow as a segment if there are great creative ideas, such as the short films Sainsbury’s made for the Paralympics.

Farah Ramzan Golant spoke about the need for brands to build a relationship with the audience through content instead of thinking of sponsorship as the only way to build a relationship. There was an interesting comment about how ‘content is the king, but distribution is the king-maker’, and the need to ensure brands/agencies have a media strategy for distribution when they create compelling content.

I was heartened to hear David Abraham mention the need for people to experiment a lot in order to create a few hits. The panel also spoke about the economics of this way of working: the hits in one part of the business will be able to fund experimentation by another part. Farah Ramzan Golant echoed this sentiment and said that we will need to learn from our audiences, change our business models as we go – even going so far as to write off profits for 2 years in order to try out different kinds of content and see what the audience likes best (this is exactly why I think Netflix’s House of Cards work is so great); ‘beyond demographics into behaviour’ is a phrase I noted down. Kirstie Allsopp made another interesting point about how people would need to get comfortable with having less control as everyone goes wider with their content work.

The event was definitely one of the more memorable ones I’ve been to lately, not least because some very experienced media people were so vociferous about the industry’s need to invest in multiple ideas rather than throw all their money on one, because the industry really needs to keep up with the times.

Wired global conversation

Advertising Week Europe

BBH’s Sir John Hegarty, R/GA’s Bob Greenberg, Radical Media’s Jon Kamen, Zenith Optimedia’s Steve King and DCM’s Simon Rees spoke to Wired’s Rupert Turnbull about a wide range of topics affecting the advertising industry today. This event has been covered elsewhere so I won’t dwell on it too much, but I want to pull out a few choice quotes.

Sir Hegarty minced no words when he said ‘the product we’re producing is getting worse’, with regard to how some ads continue to be terrible.

He also mentioned the ‘creative deficit’, something he’s spoken about before – it’s about our obsession as an industry with technology but not with what it’s doing as an enabler and as a behaviour change agent.

Bob Greenberg said ‘what works in mobile are things that are useful sponsored by a company’. This stood out for me as something that contrasted quite a bit with the takeaways from the Channel 4 content session, and it’s because of the challenges of mobile as a medium, which obviously everyone’s still trying to figure out.

Jon Kamen and Steve King mentioned the need to change the STEM petition to a STEAM petition (that includes arts), and how this is important not just for the UK/US but the rest of the world. Greenberg agreed and said they’ve opened offices in Austin and Stockholm to tap into the talent that these cities offer, because they want to find the best creative talent.

Simon Rees mentioned how brands are having to adjust their business: ‘the weaker ones aren’t surviving, the stronger ones are getting stronger’.

Sir John Hegarty said something I really believe about agencies: ‘it’s arrogance to pretend we can do everything. The job of the agency is to bring those people together’ (with regard to agencies’ relationships with specialists).

All in all, some very interesting thoughts from stalwarts in the industry. My one criticism of Advertising Week Europe is that they didn’t do enough to ensure that women were adequately represented in their panels: 2 of the 3 events above had 100% male representation – just look at the image from the Wired global conversation and tell me it isn’t obvious. I really don’t think it’s that hard to find intelligent women in the ad industry (if anyone needs any ideas for where to look, I have a few listed in the right hand side of my blog under ‘female speakers for your conference’) – in fact the one panel I attended that had women on it was by far the most interesting, in my view. And it’s not just me that thought that.

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