As part of a broader restructuring of its senior management team, Santa Monica-based RPA has hired a creative guru known for his digital innovation -- Hyper Island’s Tim Leake -- and put him in a new business role. The move follows two key management moves last month -- the promotion of digital chief Pete Imwalle to COO and Digital Marketing Director Mike Margolin to the agency’s top media role -- and all are part of the privately held shop’s shift away from treating digital as a distinct practice.
Despite their digital chops, the new team says their goal is to move beyond Madison Avenue’s current media “channel-centric” approach to advertising to an “audience-first” mindset. As part of that shift, Margolin takes on the unconventional media chief title of “director of audience strategy.”
The moves come at a time when big Madison Avenue agencies have already begun a shift from “media-buying” to “audience-buying,” thanks in large part to changes in advertising and media trading technologies that now enable ads to be targeted to discrete audiences, but the new RPA team says their goal essentially is to get rid of media silos altogether and focus entirely on their audience -- the consumer.
Asked what percentage of the agency’s media currently goes to “digital,” Margolin quipped “100%,” meaning that the shop no longer believes there is any distinction between so-called “analogue” and digital media, and that the real opportunity is to develop consumer-focused ideas in a “digital world.”
As an example of this shift in orientation, the team cites its “Small Business/Big Game” campaign for client Intuit. Instead of utilizing a Super Bowl buy the conventional way -- to promote its a client’s own brand -- the RPA team says it flipped the table to utilize the pricy media buy as a mechanism to promote Intuit’s role in helping small businesses, turning the media buy into the prize for contests that small business owners could compete to win.
“It made people care about Intuit and small business. It was a perfect example of marketing in a digital world,” says RPA’s Imwalle, pointing out that the idea was so big that it generated far more free media impressions (“billions”) for the Intuit brand than the value of the Super Bowl TV spot itself. More importantly, he says the strategy was exactly on message for the Intuit brand, and is an example of how to leverage a media buy -- in this case a TV spot -- to generate bigger ideas, interactions and impressions.
Margolin calls this approach “value multipliers,” which he says is the concept of utilizing media to “amplify” ideas that extend well beyond the inherent value of the media buy itself.
So how does that relate to new business, and specifically Leake’s new role? Among other things, Leake says it is what attracted him to RPA in the first place. Leake, a long-time Madison Avenue creative who most recently taught a master class on innovation at Hyper Island, says he actually utilized RPA’s campaigns for Intuit, Honda and other clients as case study examples of what agencies should be doing with media.
“I come from a creative background, but I wanted to go more toward the innovation side, but a lot of the innovation roles end up being talking head positions that don’t have any connection to real business,” he explains, adding: “I want to use innovation as a tool in order to grow the agency and the agency’s existing clients.”
More importantly, Leake says he was attracted to RPA’s approach to innovation, which he says isn’t done just for the sake of a new idea, or the “next bright shiny object” that an agency can tout to a client “as never been done before.” He criticized that approach to client service, new business pitches and industry awards that use ideas of media just because they’re cool and innovative, but not necessarily because they achieve the brand’s core marketing goal, or the consumer’s optimum experience.“Just because it’s never been done before doesn’t mean anyone will see it or that it will have any relevance or will affect the business,” he says.