With new technologies and platforms fragmenting the advertising and marketing space, Utah’s agencies are finding it increasingly important to be able to collaborate with clients’ in-house teams and other outside agencies—all while staying on top of the latest trends and technologies.
David Blain, Saxton Horne
Bill Brady, EKR
Mike Brian, Penna Powers
Jeremy Chase, Struck
Mike Chase, Chase Marketing Group
Cathie DeNaughel, R & R Partners
Brent Johnson, Holland & Hart LLP
Patrick O’Donnell, YESCO Outdoor Media
Brad Parkin, Hogle Zoo
Alan Perkel, Riester
Brett Pharis, Clearlink
Kelly Shelton, Boostability
Adam Stoker, Relic
Chris Thomas, Intrepid
John Youngren, Love Communications
A special thank you to Brian Jorgensen, associate professor at Westminster College and market research consultant, for moderating the discussion.
One notable trend in our industry is that more clients are bringing the marketing and advertising function in-house because of user-friendly technologies. How are you dealing with that particular challenge?
M. CHASE: We’ve seen a cycle. We’ve seen people take it in-house and then realize that some of the stuff they brought in-house, the people that they brought in-house to do it, were kind of one dimensional. They didn’t have the ability to do a lot of the different things we offer. Maybe they were decent at some digital. Well, they’re limited to the digital that they know. Sometimes some creative, sometimes some design, but they’re limited to what they know. But we are seeing a trend where they’re just bringing in specialized people. And those specialized people are actually working with us now.
PERKEL: We welcome it. We see it a lot with clients of ours who have a lot of production work, and it’s just not cost effective for them to have an agency do all the production across the board. And when we look at billing on a regular basis and we see that we’re spending more than a certain amount of full-time hours in one specific role, it’s time to have that conversation before the client brings that conversation over. Help them to bring in the right person—we’ve done that before. We can provide templates, if we need to, and help them. So, we can stay with some of the more strategic and creative work, and let them do the more production-oriented work.
STOKER: Traditionally, from an advertising agency standpoint, the immediate desire is to control the entire marketing plan. But a lot of these venture-backed tech companies, they have somebody to manage each channel. And their long-term goal is to bring everything in-house. But a lot of times they have a hard time getting head count approved to have someone to manage each of those individual channels. So we have to be willing to manage by channel as opposed to controlling the entire big picture, which has been a shift for us, but also a lot of opportunity if we’re willing to do that.
PARKIN: From the client side, I can’t imagine doing my job and doing it effectively, as the marketing director for the zoo, without the opportunity to lean on our ad agency. They’re very much more than just a contracted service. They are a true partner with everything we do. We’re in the middle of a rebranding this year, and the expertise and the know-how they’ve gained from other rebranding projects has made all the difference in what we’re planning to do moving forward. So, yeah, we do a little bit in-house based on budget. But what I can get from our agency partners, the expertise they bring to social and analytics is more than I could do on my own.
PHARIS: It’s allowed us to be more collaborative and transparent with some of our clients. Whereas before, we kind of had the black box, like, “Oh, we do all the cool stuff over here,” now it’s more like, “look at the analytics we have, look at all these campaigns we’ve run with other partners that we can provide to you.” So the competition with in-house has been healthy for us. It’s just pushed us to provide a little bit more transparency than we did in the past.
BRIAN: Having a client who knows how to leverage it the right way is what’s really critical. So many times you’ll have a client come to you and say, “Oh, we figured it out. We got it.” And then four months later they come back and say, “OK. We didn’t figure it out. Help us fix it.” But to have someone that understands how to leverage that agency the right way is really, really important and hard to find.
THOMAS: People are so frugal, so do-it-yourself, that often they lose the true essence of the value we provide. And it’s an education process. Once they understand what Brad understands, we’re able to really bring that to the table. Too often they want you to do just an element of it. We can handle all of this, but could you just do this? Can you just do this tactical element of this broader strategy? And it really doesn’t work.
M. CHASE: We are seeing clients that are taking stuff in-house that are coming back to us because they’re like, “We can’t take the turnover. We’re re-training every six months or a year because that person that we brought in-house was so limited. They presented themselves that they can do all of this, but they really could only do specific things. And we either stalled or went backwards.”
PHARIS: Or they don’t have the ecosystem in place to promote the good professionals in-house. So, instead, the person jumps somewhere else.
How has the evolving online landscape, including social media, changed your strategies?
BRIAN: Being a really old agency, sometimes you get these younger agencies come in and go, “Oh, yeah. They are those TV guys. They work with the NAC and put the newspaper ads together.” But we’ve actually learned that we’ve got to be in the adaptive marketing phase. We’ve got to start using that data closer to the event. Because with social media and digital media, stuff happens real-time now. And the faster that you can adapt to it, the faster you can move—because market segments are shifting. You used to be able to target an audience and say, “This is who we’re going after.” And on a broadcast level, you could push the medium to them and herd a bunch of them into a gate and be able to sell your products or services. Now the spectrum of that has just exploded with these digital delivery mechanisms. So you’re not really saying here’s a group of them we’re going after, you’re now talking to them one on one.
And you’ve got to be able to adapt really quickly on how they are consuming that information. Are they leveraging it? Are you using all of your mediums in one message? Are you leveraging the digital with your broadcast, with your social media, to make sure that that message is confined into one space, maybe talking to one person at a time? That’s what’s changed our industry radically—we’re not marketing to masses as much as we’re marketing to the individual.
BLAIN: When I got into this business it was really about the art of marketing. And so much more now—with digital—it’s more about the science of marketing and using data to target, to craft messages, to direct the entire campaign. So data is a much, much bigger part of what we do today than it’s ever been.
STOKER: In Utah, we have these more advanced, analytics companies, like Domo, and outside of Utah there’s Tableau. They have given us the ability to use their analytics to better attribute what comes in. So with all the different fragmented media that’s out there, if you can’t tie it back with data, it’s going to be really difficult to do. But, luckily, in Utah we have solutions that really help with that. That’s really helped us to justify our existence, is tying it all back. And the hot button in Utah is attribution models. Right? All these companies want to create an attribution model. And I don’t know that anybody’s perfected that yet, when you’ve got to incorporate branding and the digital channels that you’re using. But that sure has been a big help.
J. CHASE: With a reliance on digital you can measure damn near everything. That, in our experience, is a blessing and a curse. Because we have the ability to take a look at all these things and how they’re working. We can learn from that, we can grow. The downside is it can be too much information, particularly if we’re not careful on how we, let alone our clients, consume that. You can get in a rabbit hole pretty darn quick.
BRADY: That reinforces the role that we have to play. Right? If we’re just fulfilling tasks, we’re not doing our job. It’s up to us to lead and be the consultant and set the strategy and let the client know, here’s the plan. Find the places where they can help execute it, but it’s up to us to set that strategy.
DeNAUGHEL: If you get too digital, you lose sight of the top of the funnel, where new leads are coming in, and you’ve got to have it. Some of the old traditional media are still part of that. But you’ve also got to have the digital that’s measurable and real-time. That gives you the ability to be nimble and measure at the same time. But one big thing is that it’s content first. It’s about storytelling. It’s about a quick video that we can place on social media, on YouTube and all the other channels. Content is king. We’re shifting part of that into more of a publishing model, where in that real-time, we’re acting as a newsroom more than anything so that we can adjust on the fly, in addition to the top of the funnel.
THOMAS: I concur. Content is king. And doing a lot of public relations, it’s an area that’s blurring. Because it’s an area that we owned for a long time, and advertising has taken over. We’re still trying to figure how to provide that best content, that richest content. It goes back to the art of things, but also marries that science.
How important are video campaigns to your clients?
J. CHASE: Be all, end all.
PERKEL: Especially with the changes to Facebook, where you’re not going to show up on the feed as much if you’re using just content that is written and photographs. They’re going to show more of your posts, your organic posts, if you’re using video. They’re trying to compete with YouTube. They see the eyeballs, that people are staring at the videos that are rolling. So it’s really important to capture B-roll as much as you can and have as much content that’s ready, that’s relevant. Because it’s a very expensive thing to produce for a timeline that’s going to go away really quick. And there’s no real history. You have to go digging. And people don’t dig for that.
BRADY: As demand has increased for it, customers are re-evaluating their budgets. So even though it can be an expensive medium, people are realizing we’ve got to come up with money for it. The amount of video we’ve done in the last two years compared to the two years before that, it’s exponentially greater.
J. CHASE: At the same time, though, it’s scaleable. You don’t have to hire out very expensive production to create digital content. The technology is such, obviously, you can do it pretty cheaply. And in-house even. But video is almost a given these days, as far as when we’re evaluating a client situation and how to put things together. It’s just a matter of where it’s going to fit, not how.
DeNAUGHEL: We’ve invested both in talent and technology to make sure we can produce those videos on the fly and get them out. That’s worked very well for us. In fact, some of our strategies for our clients start with that. Certainly, it has to work with everything else. But when we start with these quick, fun, entertaining, engaging videos, it really gets the attention on social media, and they can also evolve into the larger campaign as well. But investing in-house has been key as well, and creating those content teams. Much to the dismay of the larger production companies, we’re not having to outsource it. Which makes it much more nimble and affordable for our clients. And these days they almost expect that to be an in-house service.
BRIAN: If you remember when desktop publishing came out: “Oh, I’ve got a Mac. I’m an ad agency.” So mobile phones scared the crap out of me, from a video perspective. When a client says, “We’re going to shoot our own video. We’ve got an iPhone 7 Plus. We’re good.” And it’s like, “Oh, maybe we should help you do that.” But I don’t know if you guys saw on the Super Bowl, we actually did a teen video contest for Zero Fatalities. And if any of you want a great experience, let me know. I’ll get you a drive of the worst video work you’ve ever seen in your life. We got 75 of these that were terrifying. But these kids got into it. And our objective was to engage them in the message and development of that message, not so much to have a Super Bowl ad.
THOMAS: Video’s got to be succinct. The content’s got to be on. And too often we see in-house teams producing like a four-minute video of a guy talking. Talking. It’s really compelling.
M. CHASE: And we’re accountable for its success.
THOMAS: Exactly. Then it’s thrown on us, and we’ve got to make it work. So we have to play a bigger role. We have to get involved sooner in that process. Because it is expensive for us to produce that. Sometimes we do, but too often it’s in-house. And how we integrate with that in-house team and help them to make sure that finished product is, at least, bearable.
STOKER: We do a lot of tourism advertising. And everything starts with video. But the real thing that we have to bring to the table is not just a compelling video, but a really solid distribution plan to disseminate that video in the target areas. So while video is incredibly important, the way in which you’re going to distribute that video is equally as important. Otherwise, you’re not going to get the eyeballs on it that you’re looking for. The other thing that we’ve seen a big uptick in, especially in technology companies, is these customer story videos. Where they’re going out to some of their top brand ambassadors and asking them to invest even more and actually become a testimonial video for these products. We’ve seen a big uptick in people wanting to create those and use them as a marketing piece.
Outside of social media and analytics, what other major trends do you see shaping your industry?
O’DONNELL: It’s data. Advertisers, and particularly our national advertisers, demand it. There’s just so many things happening in terms of data collection and assimilating it in a way that it can be used. Just the fact of everybody carrying a smart phone—they’re telling a story wherever they go. And that data is being collected and it’s being used. It’s going to continue to drive a lot of what we do.
PERKEL: First-party data is the greatest thing we’re seeing as well. People are sharing so much information. From the second they use Google Maps to ask where they’re going, to correlate the attributions, that they did a search for that three days ago and now they actually showed up because the GPS in the phone is still active, it knows where you’re at. Understanding how to put that to work and use that data is huge for the opportunity to really track and re-market.
DeNAUGHEL: We’ve seen a shift from the awesome AOR relationships that we all strive for, though we still have quite a few, but there is a trend to more project-based work, which requires us to be nimble, to be quicker, to be more affordable while still making a profit for ourselves. But it is more project based and more of an expertise.
J. CHASE: What we’re finding with regional national clients is the days of just one agency owning everything are very few and far between. We’re finding ourselves pooled with other agencies that are specialists. And the trick there is the client has an in-house team you need to collaborate with, plus other agency partners to collaborate with. On the plus side, that just means you have many more people to learn from. And there’s also a networking effect, too. Frankly, through referral, things like that, it’s great for business development. But it can be a challenge. Especially if you don’t have all those parts harmonized together. So it’s finding a project and trying to cultivate the relationship and seeing where it goes, and at the same time, finding another project and cultivating that relationship.
PHARIS: We’ve seen a need from our clients for us to push into more of a publishing sort of environment, where we are producing content on a pretty high velocity. High-quality content, but acting almost as a newsroom. We never made the decision at Clearlink to move from product storytelling to the customer Q&A, but we definitely have made that transition naturally over the last five or six years. And now all of a sudden we’re going to places and pitching, for example, building a travel website for a credit card company that literally does not talk about the credit card at all. It talks purely about people traveling the world. And every once in a while there might be an e-mail that mentions “Chase Freedom” or something like that. So brands are starting to understand that media, like display and native, are saturated. And to get people’s attention, they have to speak to them at a deeper level, a one-to-one personal level.
STOKER: Another trend is things are going to continue to go toward attribution. In order for us to still have the ability to do great branding campaigns and great art, we’re going to have to lead the charge on figuring out attribution of branding dollars. That’s not going to be an easy task. But unless we figure that out, especially with data-driven marketing directors and marketing teams that are led by millennials—there is a danger of branding being devalued significantly. So we’re going to have to lead the charge on attribution of branding dollars.
SHELTON: Marketing teams now need a technical person, a guru that understands code, a guru that understands ad words and SEO, at least from the developer side of things. Great content not tagged properly or coded properly on your site isn’t going to do much for you. So that technical side of things is not only really important for an agency, but for a small business as well. Most of the errors that we find are just simple, onsite errors that businesses make. And we go in and fix them, and all of a sudden they’re ranking or they’re getting traffic or things are changing.
The other role that is really becoming a big part of marketing is the customer experience. Consumers are reaching out through social media and other ways, and so marketing can play a much stronger role in the actual retention and experience of the customer. They demand a lot now. It’s very competitive and they expect a lot for their money. So managing that experience, ensuring they’re getting everything they’re paying for, understanding their goals, reporting accurately and messaging properly is also a big marketing role.
How well do you feel Utah’s institutions of higher education are doing at developing the talent you need for your organizations?
THOMAS: It’s a struggle. Most of the people who are teaching don’t have practical or current experience. And so it’s really hard to teach. Because our industry is changing so quickly. And a lot of times, they’re not asking for help from the industry. I think all of us here are willing. And many of us are teaching. But the ability to get more adjuncts and to get more involved as an industry in the education process can help to overcome some of that.
O’DONNELL: I do think there are a couple of bright spots. One is down at UVU, and Paul Dishman, and what he’s doing with the SMARTLab there. It’s really fascinating, and they will give tours of the facility there. The study primarily that’s being done has to do with how people’s emotions are affected during the buying process. Paul’s one of these guys, rather than coming from academia, he came out of the business world and IBM, which putting him in that situation just enhanced what he’s been able to do. One more area where we’ve had pretty good success is partnering with BYU in the AdLab. And that’s specifically in creative.
BRIAN: There is a shortage of media buyers out there, even for digital. It took my media team director three years to find that person. In the last three years, we’ve tried to hire three or four more, and we’ve had to just train from within. There’s such a focus on the new media, that the discipline of media buying has fallen by the wayside. I’ve had to train every account manager. We’re not getting trained account managers. We’re getting people who went to school for account managing, and it’s like they are completely and totally green when we get them. Either there aren’t people going into that, even if they are being trained in it in college, or they think everything’s so over here with the new media, that they just aren’t available.
YOUNGREN: It’s hard to find good media buyers, good people, because they’re not what I would call a “student of media.” They don’t pay attention to news or content after hours. They don’t watch television in traditional manners. They don’t read magazines. And they choose this niche to live in. It is hard sometimes to say, turn your brain on for six hours a day while you work here with me, but then you go home and don’t pay any attention to any of it. So they lack a little bit of the craft and the experience and just the sensibility that we all have of living in the world.
A real area of emphasis—at least at our agency—is looking for people who are plugged in, who can bring in ideas, who—no matter their discipline, whether it’s account management or media buying or PR or wherever—know enough about what’s going on in the world that they can place our client’s greater good in that context. And that’s just hard.
PHARIS: I went to the University of Utah. And I graduated just over 10 years ago. So relatively recently. It still felt too lecture based. The teaching and learning environment still hasn’t transitioned to something that is applicable to the current work environment, in my opinion. But there’s an opportunity for these large institutions to affect their local market. And I don’t think they’ve taken it upon themselves. And, conversely, I’m not sure we, as leaders in this particular area, have held these institutions accountable for letting people graduate that are not plugged in, that don’t pay attention to things they should. I wasn’t aware of all the things that BYU and UVU are doing until recently. But more of that and less of textbook, lecture, PowerPoint. Because, ultimately, that just kind of proliferates the, “oh, I’m just going to chill here in my seat and not really take anything in.”
DeNAUGHEL: When you go into a pitch, clients don’t want a lot of older, white guys pitching them. They want to see those younger people, they want the millennials because they see them as on the cutting edge of digital and technology and everything else.
J. CHASE: You just raised another point about diversity in the workforce. We’re actively trying to establish and seek diversity—not only women in leadership positions, but also trying to hire minority talent where we can. It’s a little harder in this market. Again, we’re all going to learn from each other. And having various backgrounds limits the echo chamber effect so we at least have a broader base of shared knowledge and experience to work from. It’s a work in progress, but it’s important work to us.