Today’s Ad Industry Innovator comes from New Marketing Labs, which you may know better if I tell you the name of its founder, Chris Brogan. Chris is the author of the NYT best seller Trust Agents and he’s in the top 3 on AdAge’s Power150. Being some of the most recognizable social media marketers, these guys have a nice niche. Awesome alliteration, ay?
It’s fun to profile a group like New Marketing Labs because they represent those specialists who have stepped in to challenge the traditional agency model and offer unique and much needed services to brands. Anyway, Hanes, Sony, Citrix, Comcast, Molson Coors, PepsiCo, AMD and Microsoft seem to think so.
This is not Brogan!
I spoke to New Marketing Labs’ General Manager, Justin Levy about what makes their firm stand out in the marketplace. Besides his many duties keeping everyone rowing in the same direction, he is the co-organizer of their Inbound Marketing Summit and Inbound Marketing Bootcamp. Prior to joining Brogan’s group Justin was Managing Director at an SEO public relations firm and President of Talent Network. His answer to question # 7 practically had me weeping. In all, it was a pleasure to get the perspective of such a well-rounded gent.
1. What was the aha moment when you realized “our company needs to be doing things differently than we have been”?
New Marketing Labs didn’t go through that period because we were founded to help medium and large businesses either figure out that aha moment or navigate their way through it . We assist our clients with using these online tools to move the needles that are important to them. We help them to enhance their communications, marketing, customer service and PR plans by using these new media tools to reach their prospects, customers and fans.
2. What books are on your nightstand or great blogs on your Google reader?
I am an avid reader and information junkie. At any given time I am subscribed to a few hundred RSS feeds, read a few books per month and read the Washington Post, Boston Globe, NY Times and Wall St. Journal on a daily basis. I love the consumption of information!
Right now I have about 15 books waiting to be read but I am currently reading the following books:
The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam
You’ll usually find me reading about marketing, business, lifestyle design, politics, productivity or food related books.
3. Give me an example of marketing you think is brilliant and why.
Dell has been doing an excellent job at using online tools to help them market to, learn from and listen to their prospects and customers. From generating $2 million dollars with just one of their Twitter accounts, to IdeaStorm, a website where Dell allows their customers to generate new ideas for the company and then vote those ideas up and down, to how Dell uses the listening and monitoring company, Radian6, to help them be involved in conversations taking place around the web. Dell has also done a great job at showing that they’re human. Dell uses both corporate accounts (e.g. DellLatitude) and personal Twitter accounts with their staff (e.g. RichardatDell). Using the employee name in the Twitter account helps to show the human side of the company and in turn, that makes stronger bonds with their customer base.
4. We’ve all read that the pitch / RFP process is broken. Many agencies aren’t even interested in competing in pitches. Do you see an alternative to this process?
The pitch/RFP process still serves a purpose in that it provides structure and the ability for the prospective client to walk down a check list to compare potential agencies who they’re interested in working with. Where the pitch and RFP process suffer is that they don’t usually showcase the human side of both the agency and prospective client. We have a natural tendency to want to do business with friends. Therefore, I think agencies need to take opportunities to develop relationships with the people who make up the corporations. Try being helpful to them in some way or connecting with them by sending a hand written note.
5. What does the agency of the future look like?
The agency of the future is more of a partner with the company that they’re working with instead of a typical agency/client relationship. The agency of the future will need to ensure that they’re delivering value to their clients and will need to provide hard data to quantify and prove that data. That’s not to suggest that agencies currently aren’t providing value to their clients. But, with budgets continuing to tighten, companies are looking at what hard value they’re receiving from their vendors and agencies. There is a difference in using new media tools that can provide hard data versus data that suggests that an approximate audience size probably saw your message.
6. What do marketers need that agencies are not giving them?
Marketers need data that will help show them the value of what they’re investing their time and budget in. Marketers need an agency that understands the complexities of their responsibilities, their department, their company and their industry and have the tools available to help navigate through it all. Marketers want agencies that provide education, both internally and externally to help them and their staff to grow.
7. Who do you admire and why?
I admire a variety of people from many different industries and for different reasons. If I had to choose one person though, I would choose my mom. Unfortunately my mother lost a long battle with Lupus during my senior year in high school. For the better part of my life my mother struggled to deal with a disabling disease. Lupus, as well as some other factors, closed many doors for my mom at an early age. Even while struggling with a disease that was constantly kicking her while she was down, she did everything in her power to see that her son, me, had everything I could ever need to help position me to be successful now. Whether it was hand-written math books to work on over the Summer, pressuring me to apply myself in school, teaching me how to deal with hardship at a young age, or any of the may other life lessons she taught me.
Or when they created National Snow Day and even made it snow in Austin to promote Copper Mountain.
Since the first day of school, Wexley has grown to 26 employees over 6+ years. They admit the first few years were tough. The guys were getting offers to do traditional work and took a few jobs that weren’t true to the agency vision just to stay afloat. As the non-traditional and media agnostic approach started catching on with clients and agencies, Wexley has been been fortunate to be at the forefront, while others talk the game and try to work out the rules.
What was the aha moment when you realized “our company needs to be doing things differently than we have been?”
We’ve never really had the aha moment as Wexley, but each of us had something in previous roles that made us think we wanted to try approaching things differently. Cal and Ian refer to the ideas they presented at their past agencies as Second Year ideas. They’d pitch them and everyone would agree it was a great solution to the customer’s business problem, but there was always a media buy that needed to be filled first so “maybe we can do those next year since this year’s media budget is already allocated.” There was good creative, just no creativity in the execution. They believed they were onto something so they decided to start Wexley and worked to define a new model for advertising.
What books are on your nightstand or great blogs on your Google reader?
The books I read at home are mostly just entertaining and borderline embarrassing. At work, we like people to focus on individual thought first and foremost. I once tried to stay on top of everything the industry reads but I’m a few thousand posts behind. I’m just reading about something called a “Tipping Point,” which I think is going to be HUGE!
Give me an example of marketing you think is brilliant and why.
I think the owners and marketing staff at the Seahawks/Sounders are brilliant. I’m biased because we work with them, but credit should be given where it’s due. The Sounders FC set out from the beginning to build something entertaining. From the choices they made with their product (including the players they hired, the choice of a scarf as the season ticket) to how they’ve rolled it out by turning the team over to the fans, everything has been methodical and highly effective. It’s a perfect example of the product becoming the marketing.
We’ve all read that the pitch / RFP process is broken. Many agencies aren’t even interested in competing in pitches. Do you see an alternative to this process?
RFPs are a necessity in subjective business. Someone is paying you to do a service for them that will be unique in each situation if we’re all doing our jobs right. They want to be assured that an agency understands their business and can handle the challenge.
As an agency, it’s easy to feel like you should be able to show some similar work to win the business. I was client-side for 10 years and can tell you from experience that your client really doesn’t care too much about what you did for <insert flashy brand name here>. You might get a few points that allow you to sit down with them and have a conversation, but that’s it. In our industry, you’re only as good as your last campaign. In your client’s eyes, you’re only as good as what you can do for them. They just want to know if you can hack it.
Regarding the broken process, I think agencies have brought a lot of it on themselves since the discussion inevitably boils down to cost/expense. We had a recent $10M opportunity and our first question internally was “can we afford to do this?” because we knew the competition would probably invest a ridiculous amount of money for a 1 in 12 shot of winning the business. As a client, I always saw things like staged out rooms and highly produced videos as overcompensation for the work not being there.
All of that said there are some bad situations out there. We have all seen poorly thought out RFPs, people who don’t actually have a budget asking you to pitch, the issue of idea ownership, clients requesting fully produced creative and more. Those aren’t problems with the RFP; they’re a problem with reasonable expectations at the client. We have our parameters for success set up and only pitch when it’s in our best interest.
What does the agency of the future look like?
I think things will continue to be interesting for the next few years. The networks will eventually hit stride again, but not before the overhead associated with the shift to digital forces them to rethink their media departments. They’ll need to re-organize themselves and package their services differently. In a digital, on-demand age, clients are going to be looking for things like rapid iteration and innovation across all areas. Smaller agencies can deliver on these more quickly than larger places, but will lack the breadth that the networks can provide. To overcome that, I think we’ll see independent agency co-ops on the rise.
We’ll also see far more digital focus, obviously. When you look at the numbers it’s surprising how little is sold today. These aren’t precise stats, but ~30% of eyeballs are online and it’s still only about 5% of the media mix for big brands. Why is that? My guess: it’s insanely more time consuming/expensive to do a multi-touch digital campaign than it is to do traditional. It’s only time before savvy clients are going to start demanding more digital in their mix than media departments are selling them.
What do marketers need that agencies are not giving them?
Marketers desperately need integration across their campaigns, which now involve more customer touch-points than ever. Internally, most marketers are still trying to determine the best way to align themselves organizationally to be most effective – they likely have a new social media team, an experiential team, grassroots team, digital media team and more. Between those groups and the preexisting ATL and BTL teams there is a going to be overlap. At the same time as clients staking out territory in the disciplines they care about, agencies are involved in a crazy land grab. It will settle with time, but for a while agencies will need to focus on playing nice to help make campaigns as integrated and effective as they have the potential to be.
Who do you admire and why?
I’m a huge fan or Pixar’s approach. They’re master story-tellers and have a unique process that enables consistent creativity and innovation. The result is a set of investors, employees and fans who can count on something great coming from them. I’d love to be a fly on the wall there for a day or two. I think we would learn a lot.
Hitch was quoted last month in an article by Michael Estrin on iMedia Connection. When beginning an ad agency search start by asking “Why do we need a new agency?”.
A CMOs Guide to Hiring a Digital Agency
According to Wiggs, that basic question – why do we need a new agency? — will always lead to some rather profound insights, if the brand can be honest about its own corporate culture as well as what’s gone right (and wrong) with the relationship at hand. While that may sound like simple advice, it’s a pill not easily swallowed by many clients.