The 4A’s Accelerate conference is one of the industry’s best. Formerly known as 4A’s Transformation, the new name—introduced this year under new 4A’s CEO, Marla Kaplowitz—illustrates the speed of change required to thrive in today’s ever-changing marketplace. The conference celebrates everything agency, particularly creativity, commerce, and culture.
This year’s mix of sessions was highly engaging and covered a variety of topics including technological advancements, new agency models, successful agency/client partnerships, and meaningful creative work. Over the course of the conference, there were several underlying themes that were interwoven throughout the programming and in side-conversations, chief among these: creativity, storytelling, and trust.
As these themes continue to impact the agency world, let’s take a closer look at how they stood out during 4A’s Accelerate:
Creativity continues to define the agency
Collectively, agencies are proud of their legacy. However, lately, agency professionals feel that the crux of their unique offerings, creativity, is neither being fairly valued by their clients nor is it being promoted forcefully enough by the agency community as a whole.
A huge piece of what agencies bring to the table is creativity. It is the unique, sustaining, leverageable skill that drives the marketing services industry. Creativity remains at the core of every agency practice—creativity of ideas, creativity in account development, creativity in media strategy and execution, and even creativity in tech evaluation and deployment. It is what truly differentiates agencies from “the new invaders”—the Accentures, McKinseys, Deloittes of the world as well as other non-traditional entities now competing in the marketing services arena.
The consulting giants can certainly acquire other agencies and buy creative people. But they cannot effectively integrate the resources or talent to produce ideas of the magnitude and innovation of an agency. It simply isn’t endemic to their business culture. Advertising is fundamentally a creative business. Accounting and management consulting are not.
“Creativity can’t be fabricated or delegated—it must be nurtured.”
—Debby Reiner, CEO, Grey New York
For agency professionals like you to continue to thrive and make a difference for your clients, you must be creative—and be proud of it. Weave it into everything you do, including how you think about strategy, media, and technology.
“Start with your truth. Live it in everything you do (don’t just say it). And let the messaging flow from that.”
—David Angelo, Founder & Chairman, David & Goliath
Emotional connections with consumers are forged not just by interest-based relevance, but in the telling of compelling, human stories. Agencies and their brand clients ultimately want to connect with audiences on a human level and visual storytelling delivers this in the most effective and durable way. Storytelling is a key driver in the increasing embrace of video-based formats. Data should not preempt this but can add significant value by enabling, “storytelling with smarts.” This is why data-driven Advanced TV and other emerging channels will grow voraciously as agencies continue to recommend and buy video on behalf of clients.
“Customers aren’t numbers, customers are people. We need to understand the multi-dimensionality of storytelling.”
—Julie Rieger, President, Chief Data Strategist & Head of Media, 20th Century Fox Film
To fully embrace storytelling for your clients, dig deep into their history, their culture and the “why” behind their mission. Discover their brand identity and use it to craft compelling messaging that target audiences can connect with on a deeper, more personal level.
Trust as a business imperative
Traditional concerns around “transparency” and “safety” have elevated noticeably to trust. Trust between client and agency, trust between brands and consumers, and trust in the ecosystem that powers all of these connections.
Trust encompasses a broad variety of concerns, from data privacy and security protection to ad fraud prevention and anti-piracy. Agencies and their brand clients that master this multi-level equation will form sustainable businesses. However, violating trust, especially among consumers, will erode—if not effectively erase—any lasting customer loyalty which is the lifeblood of any consumer brand. Mishandle or betray consumer trust and you will be reduced. However, maximize trust and your client’s brand will thrive.
“Trust is a performance multiplier”
— Darren (Daz) McColl, Chief Brand & Marketing Strategy Officer, Global, SapientRazorfish
The advertising industry as a whole has been struggling with a lack of trust over the last few years. This has been particularly apparent in the friction between clients and agencies over transparency concerns as well as between consumers and the agencies/brands that leverage their data for stronger interactions. The recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica controversy further underscores the growing consumer anxiety over the integrity and accountability of online data practices.
In order to get back on track, we, as an industry, need to achieve “Advertising Assurance”—where we keep both brands and consumers safe. When working with your clients, you must strive to ensure balanced environments where both your brand clients and their consumers can coexist with trust.