Agency of the Year: Bronze, Mobile -- PHD

PHDTo reach the fast-growing audience of smartphone owners, Omnicom's PHD isn't afraid to pump up the noise.

For five days in October, Omnicom media agency PHD staged an experimental theatre production called Mobility Week in its midtown Manhattan offices.

Cast and crew included most of its staffers, more than 20 of its client companies, and 40 industry thought leaders representing all things mobile: technology, inventory, analytics, audience, and apps. On each day of this mini-conference, PHD presented panel discussions and hands-on demonstrations on a different mobile theme. The purpose was to do in one place what the agency had done all over the place last year — explaining, promoting, and inspiring the growth of mobile advertising.

Agency chief Monica Karo is on a mission to redefine the medium. The word “mobile” refers to phones; “mobility” describes what consumers do with their phones. “It’s about all the ways your content goes with you, everywhere you want,” says Karo. “The behavior is to be mobile all the time.” She’s not kidding. A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center shows that “connected viewers” can’t part with their smartphones for anything — including watching TV. According to the research, 38 percent of cell owners used their phones to amuse themselves during commercials, and 23 percent texted friends who were watching the same show — while it was on.

Karo, like many other industry prognosticators, believes 2013 will be the year that mobile explodes — and she’s determined to ensure that PHD and its clients are front and center when it does. “We’ve been talking about mobile for a few years, but mobile wasn’t ready for us,” says Karo, who joined PHD from Omnicom sister agency omd in March. “Consumers weren’t ready for what the industry has to offer, but in the last six months, a lot of things have been coming together.”

As smartphone users got into the technology, marketers increasingly embraced the idea of allocating dollars to an unproven and complex medium that’s literally in the hands of 50 percent of American consumers. From the user side, the numbers look great. Research firm eMarketer expects total mobile penetration to hit 77 percent this year, with nearly half of those consumers using smartphones. That equals 120 million people who can receive ad messages anywhere and everywhere they go.

Ad support is gaining, too. Mobile spending is expected to rise 80 percent in 2012 to $2.6 billion, according to eMarketer. But the numbers are still out of whack. Mobile only accounts for 7 percent of the marketing pie, even though smartphone users drive more than 12 percent of Internet traffic, according to data firm StatCounter. Clearly, a sizable gap remains between opportunity and investment, and PHD has been out there trying to close it as fast as possible.

Between August 2011 and July 2012, the agency hit the road to meet with 15 clients in categories where mobile was, or would soon be, disrupting their business. It made detailed mobile landscape presentations to each one, outlining marketing opportunities, competitor initiatives, and immediate testing recommendations. The deep-dive approach worked; all but one of those clients boosted their mobile budgets.

“We don’t have any feet-draggers,” Karo says of the agency’s clients. “They just don’t know where to start. They don’t have the expertise.”

Guiding clients through the mobile maze

For PHD, that’s been a key part of the lesson plan this year — helping clients figure out the skill set and organizational structure they need to have internally in order to navigate and own the mobile space. “Hearing from us about what we look at, and the conservations we’re having with mobile vendors, gives them a sense of what they should have on their side,” says Karo.
By the time clients are talking about in-house competencies, however, they’re already in the space to some extent. Many marketers aren’t even close, according to Alexis Rask, Vice President and General Manager of Brand Partnerships at Shopkick, an app that dispenses offers and rewards to shoppers, and a Mobility Week participant. “Ten percent of marketers we talk to are really making mobile a huge priority, and 25 percent are acknowledging that it’s an important channel,” she says. The rest, it seems, are waiting to see how it goes.

What they are most likely waiting for is someone to come up with a standard measure for ROI — an issue that plagues most digital media. “Next year I think the desire is there to really make it game changing,” says Karo, “but one of things that may hold mobile back is having a common currency by which we measure. The money’s coming from somewhere, and clients are asking, ‘what am I losing over here and gaining over there?'”

To try and answer some of those questions, PHD and Omnicom Media Group’s Data Policy and Privacy Group commissioned an audit of more than 75 mobile technology companies to determine the best mobile measurement and tracking solutions. It examined everything: technology, scalability, customer service, business analysis, data security and privacy. The audit led to at least one piece of new business: The Economist hired PHD to acquire app downloads and to drive subscriptions. During the year, PHD has helped launch more than 15 other apps in various app stores, with nearly all making it into the top 25 in its category.

If PHD’s mobile clients are more evolved than most, it’s partly because their agency is, according to Rask. “We see a huge appetite among clients to better understand what to do in mobile, and how to measure. Some agencies are proactive, some less so. There are a few players in the space that really get it, and PHD is one of the ones I put on that short list.”

Not only does the agency regularly head to Silicon Valley to meet with technology providers, it brings clients there to have very specific dialogues surrounding their business — a critical move, as far as Rask is concerned. “There isn’t a one size fits all approach to mobile. Each consumer is so connected to their device, but that means there are so many ways for marketers to engage,” she says. “There needs to be a robust dialogue between agency, client, and technology.”

Breaking ground with technology

When PHD wasn’t wearing its tutor hat last year, it produced innovative award-winning campaigns for such clients as Foot Locker and GlaxoSmithKline. For Foot Looker, PHD created a summer campaign called #kickstagram, which used the social media site Instagram to drive consumers to the retailer’s page. By uploading photos of their favorite kicks, and tagging them with #kickstagram and @footlocker, users had the chance of having their photos showcased on Foot Locker’s page and website, and in store windows. The creative was fun, the social media platform was new, but it was the technology behind the mobile banner ads that really broke ground.

“Foot Locker asked us to do something with Instagram, and we knew we needed to simplify the 'following' process,” says Sal Candela, PHD’s Director of Mobile. “We knew if we made it more efficient, we’d increase the following.”

The agency, along with one of its technology partners, came up with a procedure that shrank a time-sucking five-step process into two quick clicks. Tapping the banner once opened the Instagram app and directed users right to the Foot Locker page. A second click on the “follow” banner, and users were in. That technological advance “increased the number of Instagram followers six-fold in two-to three weeks,” says Candela.

Pioneering, yes. Surprising, no. Not to Foot Locker, at least. “PHD constantly thinks outside the box and excites us to introduce integrated and innovative programs to support our Foot Locker brands,” says evp of marketing Stacy Cunningham. “They take the time to deliver opportunities that engage our customers in relevant and meaningful ways. Our customers were excited to upload pictures of their sneakers for all to see.”

Leveraging geo-location for Tums

For GlaxoSmithKline, the agency’s mission was to support the launch of the Tums Freshers by driving shoppers to the shelf. The antacid/breath freshener comes in a small portable container that’s hard to find on the shelf, so PHD turned to Shopkick come up with a mobile geo-targeting program aimed at people already in the store. “When consumers walked into one of our selected retailers, we served a full-screen ad, and also prompted them to pick up the product and scan it to learn more about what made Tums Freshers unique,” says Candela. “On paper the idea made sense, but the proof was in the results.” Three months after the launch, the purchase intent among Freshers scanners was almost equal to that of the 82-year-old standard Tums brand.

“From my end, PHD and GlaxoSmithKline both recognized the power of mobile to drive engagement…physical engagement between a person and a product,” says Rask.

The need for both clients and agency staffers to understand that power prompted Candela to develop and moderate a panel discussion called “Using Location and Proximity to Drive Commerce” on day four of “Mobility Week.” For Rask, one of the panelists, the event cemented her view of PHD as a true industry leader. “I was struck by how invested they are in making mobile work for their clients across the board — doubling down on making sure that they’re as educated and cutting edge as they can be. It was awesome to see the engagement level in the audience.”

To Karo, Candela, and agency cdo Craig Atkinson, the small, informal conference that clogged PHD’s hallways for a week was as critical to the education of agency staffers as it was for clients. “The main buzz for the teams internally was, ‘How can you use mobility in a way that’s outside what you’re doing,’” says Candela. “Five or six teams scheduled time to meet with me to talk about they could do. It was not theory any longer.”

The daily hive of activity, as 50 to 100 people moved from the common space where the panel discussions took place to the boardroom where experiential labs were set up, created a buzz for clients, too, according to Candela. “To hear questions being asked by clients in other categories, and talk about best practices and what others are doing in other categories — it was just really interesting. And the partners that came to the panels were more candid than at general industry events.

One partner-panelist came away from the session with a very vivid and long-lasting image. “The audience was using their phones while we were talking, and I don’t think they were answering email,” says Rask. “They were looking at what we were discussing right there, checking out the technology. It was really, really cool. And it speaks to the importance of the medium.”

If the mark of a great show is the number of people who mill around after it’s over, hashing and rehashing what they’ve seen and heard, Mobility Week was a runaway hit. After the last presentation, PHDhosted a cocktail party. The audience stuck around for two hours.

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