I’m more prone to reflection than prediction during this time of year, although these meditative moments often lead to glimpses of what might still be around the corner. In my five years leading Freshwire, and in particular the 30 months since our network agency acquisition, I’ve witnessed firsthand the challenges and opportunities faced by clients and agencies alike in a rapidly evolving marketing world that demands constant adaptation.
So while I won’t try to predict where the industry is headed (no one knows for sure — and don’t trust anyone who says otherwise), I think my time on the inside has given me insight into the types of companies best positioned for future success. Integrated marketing — finally — is truly taking root. But it’s being radically redefined. Here are three simple ways to be part of the future.
THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO COLLABORATE
The days of the full-service agency are over. Multiple evolving disciplines, continually emerging technologies and fragmented audiences mean no single agency can credibly claim to be an all-in-one solution anymore. It’s an era of specialists versus generalists, and all of the various experts need to learn to work together as one team. One big advantage of joining a large network agency has been the opportunity to collaborate with some of the world’s leading specialists, and I’ve seen how these partnerships directly benefit clients while they challenge us to always be our best.
Of course, I recognize that we’ve been fortunate: it only works when everyone is able to put aside egos, territorialism and memories of a bygone “spend all the money” era. The talent, resources and client management acumen within network agencies is too vast to be ignored or dismissed. And agencies that can put their clients’ needs first by engaging in partnerships with compatible colleagues — rather than selling services first and then scrambling to try to fulfill them later — will be best prepared to reap the rewards.
THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO TAKE GREATER RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR FUTURE
In our content strategy work with clients, I have recently seen a trend emerge that I hope will continue into 2015: Brands are taking greater ownership of their content creation. They’re hiring key staff with storytelling backgrounds and giving them a place at the table with marketing execs. When brands gain greater storytelling expertise, they look to their partner agencies for strategic counsel and direction, creating a larger opportunity to develop and deploy a complete, cohesive strategy. Agencies should celebrate this — while also preparing for a world in which they may exert less control over their clients’ marketing.
On the other hand, as they begin to own their own narrative, clients must be willing to accept the administrative and operational responsibility that comes along with it. In a recent interview with The Drum, Nissan marketing chief Roel de Vries justifiably bemoaned the time suck of coordinating multiple agencies. “Why is it my job to herd all these cats?” de Vries wondered. But I would respectfully counter that as owner of his story, it is exactly his job to herd the cats. Maybe he needs fewer. Maybe he needs to train them better. But they are his cats. While agencies unequivocally need to play nicer with one another (thereby making their clients' lives easier), clients’ abilities to manage processes must also improve.
THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO BEST BRIDGE THE CONNECTED AND UNCONNECTED WORLDS
We live in a world where we constantly move between “connected and unconnected,” as strategic foresight thinker Thimon de Jong so eloquently describes it. The best content — that is, the content that provides value and moves us to action — has multiple entry points in both the connected and unconnected worlds. It is also the result of a closely coordinated effort between strategists, creators, media planners and analysts who know how to plan, produce and distribute content across a variety of environments — connected and unconnected.
This is perhaps the greatest irony of our new marketing world: it’s starting to look like the old one. We plug in, we unplug. We move through our world looking for inspiration. The devices have changed (and will change again). The stories are shorter and faster, yet they still give voice to our same desires to belong, share and matter. The integration and collaboration we seek as people is the same ideal to which we should aspire as professionals.
This “connected journey” — the content path we lay for consumers across digital and traditional platforms — is emblematic of where agencies and clients are headed in 2015. It’s less sexy than the promise of iBeacons, wearables and the Internet of Things (all very real 2015 predictions — there, I did it). But it is the essential story that must be written if we are to provide value to one another and to our consumers. We must integrate on a day-to-day working level if we are to truly leverage the power of an integrated world.
Here’s to a collaborative, integrated 2015.