Conversation With Donnovan Andrews: Industry's First Innovation Chief Explains The 'Digital Inevitability' And How You Can Prepare For It

The 4As this week named Donnovan Andrews Chief Advisor of Digital Media and Innovation, the first-ever external position created by the 96-year-old trade association, and the first to focus squarely on the role of innovation in transforming agency organizations. Andrews, who continues his full-time gig as vice president-media sales and operations at Austin-based digital marketing firm BazaarVoice, tells MAD what to expect next.

MAD: In your expanded role with the 4As, you will serve as Chief Advisor of Digital Media and Innovation. Are the two synonymous? Can agencies innovate without digital media?

Donnovan Andrews: Absolutely they can. I think we’ve seen print, TV and radio leaders do interesting things around innovation for years… But what I predict will be different going forward is agencies encouraging clients using traditional outlets to drive the customer toward digital platforms -- even more than they are now. Doing so will give the consumer what they want -- and what they’ve been accustomed to -- and will give media organizations opportunities to create better businesses. Digital platforms will allow for social connectivity, product/brand messaging and intelligence-gathering activities, which in turn will enable media properties and brands to collect actionable data and deliver enhanced customer experiences.

MAD: Now that all media are essentially digital, why not just call the role Media and Innovation?

Andrews: It’s more about focus and building a plan to get things done. The strategy I’m building is more about putting a plan in place that’ll gather agency leaders around hot-button issues and growing areas of interest, and doing it consistently, in a focused, deliberate, measurable way. I do believe that in time our efforts will overlap with initiatives in terrestrial radio, TV and print, but we need to be smart about how we activate the first stage of digital and not cast too wide a net.

MAD: Why hasn't the 4As had an innovation role in the past? Isn't innovation essential for being prepared for the future, however it plays out?

Andrews: The organization has always had innovation as part of its ethos; it’s just that innovation in advertising technology has a different velocity. The 4A’s wanted to assign someone to keep tabs on the digital evolution, as it’s sure to have a significant impact on the way agencies and brands do business. Change is happening at such a rapid pace and the geographic locations for this change are borderless… so putting another set of eyes on digital media trends and having a clear strategy in place to keep up with that pace makes sense.

MAD: Can you give some concrete examples of the kinds of things you'll be focusing on and how you'll be advising agencies to apply them?

Andrews: Well, back in June, we announced the formation of the Data Advisory Council and brought on board not just agencies, but companies like Facebook, Pandora, and Klout to contribute to the dialogue. The opportunity that came out of that is the first 4A’s Data Summit, which is on Oct. 16 here in New York.

The keynote for this event will be delivered by Sir Martin Sorrell and the day’s participants will be agencies, their DSPs, investment banks and other players in the data ecosystem. I think the industry should look forward to more events large and small, white papers and guidance reports, as well as educational series across a variety of topics -- the 4As will disclose what these topics are at a later date, so please stay tuned.

MAD: Given the hyper-accelerated pace of change, can Madison Avenue innovate fast enough to keep up with it?

Andrews: Yes, however, there are challenges in terms of "keeping pace with innovation" within the agency structure. However, it doesn’t mean that it won’t be done. Agencies have a tremendous amount of leverage to negotiate opportunities for partnerships and joint ventures... They don't have to go it alone.

MAD: The big news this week is the Publicis Omnicom merger. The principals have cited the accelerated rate of change, the increasing power of big digital media companies, and the impact of Big Data as the main reasons for doing the deal. What do you think about it, and do you think it will accelerate more consolidation on Madison Avenue?

Andrews: The holding companies are preparing themselves for what I call “the digital inevitability.” Media outlets are going to move more and more towards digital distribution, digital procurement, digital recording. And, if you’re bringing two of the largest agency holding companies together to prepare for that future – then this makes sense. Together, Publicis Omnicom is going to have access to more client campaign data, by amassing one of the largest troves of data in the world. They’ll be able to provide their clients with additional insights and vastly improved targeting, which will create more opportunities to develop direct touch-points with consumers.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the organizations use the combined clout within the industry. There are so many pieces that need to come together to create a holistic technology stack; this could lead to a series of tech acquisitions to complete that stack. The Publicis Omnicom merger could also lead to a wave of accelerated partnerships with technology organizations as well… It’s so early – the predictions can go in many directions.  It’ll come down to the corporate development strategy they put in place… one option is bring it all in-house, or to work with external partners, each has  pros and cons… the classic rent versus buy approach.

MAD: What can smaller and medium-sized agencies do to innovate, and keep pace with change. Is scale a barrier to entry?

Andrews: There are plenty of companies out there that provide turnkey trading desk solutions, as well as other solutions that can be integrated to give you a fully-baked technology stack. When it comes to data, the over emphasis has been on "big data" and that’s not always the case. Small data, if it’s good data, is just as valuable and efficient if it is deployed properly.

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2 comments about "Conversation With Donnovan Andrews: Industry's First Innovation Chief Explains The 'Digital Inevitability' And How You Can Prepare For It".
  1. Paul Benjou from 3D Printing Bureau , August 1, 2013 at 1:18 p.m.
    MAD - "all media are essentially digital". Really? TV accounts for the bulk of all media around the planet, yet way less than 1/10th of its content is streamed to the web.
  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost , August 1, 2013 at 6:10 p.m.
    @paul: Yep, really. 100% of terrestrial broadcast TV, and most cable and satellite TV is distributed via a digital signal. Most TV sets are digital.