Independent agencies are facing a new set of challenges today, but it’s nothing they haven’t experienced before.
That was the atmosphere at Worldwide Partners Global Summit in Paris last week. Agency partners are optimistic and energized, because the struggle is not new. While the exact challenges are different today—rise of consultancies creating new competitors, rapidly advancing technologies, new marketing channels, and increased demands from both clients and employees—the struggle has aways been there, as it is with all Davids battling Goliaths. It’s these challenges that keep independent agencies going, feeding their passions and keeping them “fiercely independent,” as Gary Slack of Slack and Company stated.
Yet, the only way to maintain this fierce independence is by sticking together, by becoming interdependent within the WPI network, as CEO and President John Harris urged in his opening speech. We’ve had 63 examples of this interdependence in the past year—partners collaborating for joint pitches, client work and staff exchange programs. And with 12 new agencies joining WPI in the past 12 months, covering 5 new countries around the world, this global collaboration is more efficient and more expansive than ever.
The theme of the Global Summit was “Advant-Garde,” alluding to the experimental, radical, or oftentimes unorthodox freedom afforded to WPI as an independent network. This theme of innovation and progressiveness inspired discussion and ideation in four main areas of our business: Global Collaboration, Agency Operations, Service Offerings and Industry Verticals.
Interdependence & Global Collaboration
With more than 60 agencies in 40 countries covering some 90 industries, global collaboration is always a major topic of conversation at our meetings. The Global Summit allows partners to meet face-to-face to discuss opportunities to provide global reach with a local feel and how to band together to combat the big holding company “Dinosaurs of the Com,” as Jean-Paul Tréguer, CEO of Partner TVLowCost in France put it.
This year, a new set of competitors has emerged in the industry—consultancies—and was a major theme throughout the Summit. Our partners welcome the challenge these new competitors present, because we know where our strengths lie. While these consultancies are tech- and channel-focused, our partners offer strategy, creative and business leadership, which will never become commoditized. By focusing on talent education and supporting a learning culture, as speaker Allison Kent-Smith of smith&beta recommended, independent agencies can gain the skills needed to learn new technologies and channels, while maintaining a strategic focus.
Understanding how to run your business in a more effective and efficient way is a important outcome of these Summits. Partners are able to offer advice by sharing experiences—both good and bad—so that all partners can learn and grow from each other. Some of the key topics discussed about agency operations were positioning and pitching, media guidelines and transparency and remuneration.
Leadership & New Business
Luc Wise, founder of Herezie and currently Chief Transformation and Strategy Officer for Publicis Counseil, discussed how independent agencies should be leading clients through business transformations. He stated that as long as you know what your added value is, their should be no concern over the rise of consultancies or any other competitors. He cautioned independent agencies not to become “a big whale or tiny Nemo fish, but rather a big shark or a speedy piranha.”
Franco DiRosa, co-founder and VP of Italia Brand Group and former WPI board member, discussed their recent acquisition by Ernst and Young. He shared insights from this transition on how independent agencies should position themselves: “Find the “golden land” where consulting firms, communication agencies and specialized players overlap. Where Suits and jeans cultures overlap. Where CMO and CIO overlap.”
To pitch or not to pitch? This is an important question. And more partners vehemently say “No” (at least in theory). However, there are times when pitching is either unavoidable or beneficial. Pitching is necessary when you’re hoping to break into new verticals where you don’t have experience, and it can be used as a foot in the door for future pitches. And always, always try to get paid for your pitches.
Media Guidelines & Transparency
Partners shared concerns about the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) during The Unconference. Stacy Marcus of Reed Smith explained that GDPR is a major concern for everyone, not just those operating in the EU. This new guideline, going into effect on May 25, 2018, will make data collection more restrictive. You must be careful with how you gather and store data, and who has access to it within your company and any partners/vendors. Yet, this does not have to be a scary event; rather, you should see it as an opportunity to clean up email lists and re-start with fresh lists and more targeted segments.
How to structure contracts and receive payments is always an important topic at WPI meetings and this year was no different. However, some partners are beginning to spot new trends with how clients are demanding to pay. Rebates and signing bonuses were two common requests—several partners cited clients asking for (and sometimes being given) money back after a certain period of time or upon signing for a specific contract length.
David Beals of JLB+Partners shared trends he’s seeing around the globe with pricing models. While fees are still the primary method he sees today, he believes that performance-based payment methods are the future. Fortunately, independent agencies are well equipped to handle performance-based models for several reasons:
- We have greater flexibility to financially invest in client relationships
- We can serve as a one-stop-shop for SMBs
- We can provide the right level of attention and thought-leadership
David urged agencies to establish a relationship with procurement teams, in additional the marketing and executive departments we’re accustomed to working with. Several partners, including Wächter & Wächter and ClearB2B confirmed this by sharing stories of procurement becoming more involved.
Video was popular topic during the summit, and with one-third of all online activity spent watching video, it’s no surprise why! Video allows you to connect with consumers on an emotional level, which is more profitable than rational ones, according to Greg Fournier of Unruly. Greg shared some video campaigns that were truly emotional, like the Sandy Hook Promise. The emotions generated from this video differ across the globe, and Greg encouraged agencies to pick one emotion to illicit with a video and modify it for differing cultural perspectives.
He stressed that shorter isn’t always better. While most people think our attention spans are barely that of a gold fish, he believe that the existence of Netflix disproves that sentiment. People binge watch programing for hours upon hours. It’s not that consumers can’t consume longer content, it just has to be the right content to bring up the right emotions. Greg also shared some tactical tips for videos:
- Use doubt, empathy or curiosity at beginning of video, not joy. Ads that start happy are skipped more often.
- Don’t start with brand logo. Ads that use logo in first five seconds are skipped more often. Partner Ardmore in Belfast agreed with this advice, citing experience with some 600 videos that performed better when the branding came at the end.
- Use a static image at the start of a video.
Watch a video of Greg’s full presentation on Facebook.
Some of these tips were different than those provided by Ben Wood of Facebook; yet, Ben was sharing advice for Facebook only, not other platforms. Ben recommended using the logo right away in a video. He also recommended creating shorter videos since people consume content much faster on mobile devices (1.7 seconds compared to 2.5 on desktop or 500 words per minute on mobile compared to 300 on desktop). Finally, Ben encouraged agencies to think about mobile videos in a vertical perspective, rather than horizontal, and to consider how they’ll be viewed with the sound off to account for Facebook newsfeed distribution.
Victor Knaap, CEO of MediaMonks, offered another exciting perspective on video. MediaMonks is a global creative production company that connects creative ideas with platforms. Victor stated that “data beats out culture” and you must start with a strong plan that combines hero, hub and help content into a seamless video loop that continues the story throughout each touching of your platform.
Ben Wood encouraged agencies to meet the customers where they are, and that’s mobile. It’s not only where they are, it’s also where they shop. In fact, 72% of people are using mobile phones to make purchase decisions. But you can’t simply use the same video on mobile that you’re using in display ads and on your website.
Greg Fournier recommended that you target mobile with short form video content for when consumers are more likely to be on-the-go, and then retarget with longer video content when they’re more likely to be at home on a desktop.
Data & Attribution
Data and attribution were major points of discussion throughout the summit—during speaker presentations, partner presentations and casual conversations. How to measure? What tools to use? Who is responsible? Ben Wood encouraged us all to first consider what we’re measuring to ensure it’s the right thing—last click attribution and cookie-based targeting aren’t enough anymore. Eric Dunn of new partner Odysseus Arms in San Francisco also warned of allowing data to become a crutch, “[Don’t let it] turn consumers into zeros and ones.” Watch Eric’s full presentation on Facebook.
Guest agency Headvertising from Romania shared their data-backed approach to creative marketing, and their solution to bridge the gap between brands and consumers by integrating data across channels and platforms. Watch a video of their full presentation on Facebook.
Other Service Considerations
Norty Cohen, Founder and CEO of Moosylvania in Saint Louis, shared his experience with using consumers as the communication method. Norty shared that “every consumer is an influencer” and 71% of them want to represent a brand. Brands much lead the movement and create a culture and language, then get out of the way to allow consumers to work for them. Norty also gave away copies of his new book, The Participation Game, which explains how top brands are building brand loyalty in our skeptical world. Watch Norty’s full presentation on Facebook.
Stephen Quinn of Partner Atomic in Dublin, Ireland shared experience with a unique service offering at their agency—Employer Branding. They help major clients attract, engage and retain talent by leveraging the brand name. Watch Stephen’s full presentation on Facebook.
During a B2B network meeting at Partner Aressy‘s beautiful officers in Paris and a panel of B2B partners on the last day of the Summit, the group discussed several trends and topics in their vertical. B2B agencies are finding that the strategies they use are not so different than B2C, it’s the buyer journey that is unique, namely the longer purchase time and more involved parties.
Christine Kilman of Gelia in Buffalo, NY cited procurement as trend facing B2B as well: “It’s a purchasing world right now, and it’s costing more to do business these days.” Three other trends that partners are seeing in B2B are: marketing automation, content and alignment across departments.
Partner Juice Pharma lead a workshop for other partners in the healthcare group to discuss innovation strategies. In healthcare, innovation is not always the sparkly, technology-laden work that other industries have become accustomed to. That’s because there are strict regulations in healthcare that prevent brands and agencies from using many of the tactics, channels and tools used by other. However, there are ways to get around this, such as:
- Using images, rather than words
- Storytelling through patient, employee or doctor stories, that way it’s not coming from the brand
- Using virtual reality to address patient fears and improve physical therapy
- Co-creation with consumers – again, this way it’s not coming from the brand, but rather from consumers
The Summit wasn’t all business though! WPI partners know the importance of connecting with each other on an emotional level, and they were able to do that through numerous receptions, dinners and networking events at incredible locations throughout Paris, including the offices of Aressy and TVLowCost, Palais de Tokyo, Le Musée de Montmatre and a dinner river cruise on the Seine.
To capture all of the education, new business opportunities and fun happening at the Global Summit, we leveraged Cinebody, a crowd-sourced video platform that all partners were uploading footage to. This short reel truly showcases the power of collaboration among our partners and the great content at the Summit.