SMG succeeds by reinterpreting media through the lens of human experience
The field of communications has been high mowing in recent years: Competition for audiences’ attention has never been greater — amid historically dry corporate budgets and consumer spending. Such unforgiving conditions didn’t keep Starcom MediaVest Group from celebrating one of its best years ever, earning it the honor of Media Network of the Year.
During 2011, SMG landed multinational clients including Microsoft, Burger King and CocaCola; introduced new innovations to leverage digital speed and hyperlocal knowledge; and employed their bold “human experience,” strategy to connect clients to customers.
“The heritage of SMG is to strategically lead our clients in the marketplace, so we’re constantly challenging ourselves and looking for an edge to define the future and redefine our place in it,” CEO Laura Desmond says. “We don’t take anything for granted.”
SMG sowed the seeds for their biggest strategic bet back in 2008, when the agency began redefining its purpose around “human experience,” dynamic and interactive experiences where consumers could lean in or opt out.
“We believe all of that interactivity, that experience and participation, will move into the first screen world,” Desmond says. “It’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when.’ Everything that is analog will become digital. Every device will have an IP address.”
To understand the customers behind their devices is the job of SMG’s Human Experience Strategy Network, led by Laura Krajecki, chief consumer officer. In the past year, a few people in key markets have grown to a global “sounding board” of 150 strategists. Some 1,700 people worldwide offer consumer insights from key audiences — youths and moms — and their opinions are available 24/7/365. Custom research initiatives can activate Sensing Investigations, which offer clients a global perspective on a topic or theme to hone-in on behaviors and actions that help them understand their audience.
The competitive edge comes to life through branded content produced by Liquid Thread, which has grown from a U.S. company to an international network with nearly 20 offices in over 15 countries since late 2010. It stranded a UK rock band in the middle of nowhere with only their BlackBerry devices to navigate and communicate via social feeds. The feat helped BlackBerry move from being known as a mere utility device to reach a younger audience.
“If you have a bold strategic vision, you’d better have a bold innovation plan,” Desmond says. Her aim: to create a virtuous cycle of innovation, with new ideas and tools coming online every three to six months.
One example is POEM, MediaVest’s proprietary methodology for measuring interactions between paid, owned and earned media. Truly earned media can exponentially increase the impact of paid and owned media. Using these new modeling algorithms, POEM helps clients amplify the return on their marketing investments.
Cutting-edge tools and its daring strategy have earned SMG won 287 new business pitches (a 65 percent conversion), scored more than 200 global industry accolades, and seen close to a 9 percent increase in organic growth.
RECMA also awarded SMG with several No. 1 honors in its July 2011 report, including Global Overall Activity Billings, Overall Billings for the Top 12 Countries (a 13.5 percent growth rate), and Overall Billings in the Americas, leading other agencies with a 15.7 percent increase.
But SMG’s exponential growth has brought it back to where it began — its people. Developing, attracting, and helping them lead in an industry that’s both fiercely competitive and wildly creative is her greatest challenge of all.
“We try to create a culture of winning and leading, walking the talk and delivering what our clients want,” Desmond says. “You get to create, imagine, lead clients to build brands, and help people with those brands meet their needs. If you really love ideas and you love change, this is a great business to be in.”