Knowing When To Slow Down The Machine

The most important tension in the industry right now is a subtle, brewing one: the tension that implores us to slow down. I have long supported this "slow down" imperative, and its value generally within all of our business dealings. 

However, we are not talking about slowing to a crawl. Instead, we should slow down just enough to collaborate properly; make sound, sustainable decisions; and invest shrewdly in systems, people, research, partnerships and placements. This is often a conversation about getting the right people talking during discovery -- collaborating around research, data and insights, and then co-developing strategy to move a business or brand forward through concerted execution.  

In an increasingly commoditized media environment, this kind of work gets truncated by a more routinized working environment and check-list approach to spending our client's or brand's dollars. Automation is essential, but cannot stand alone to deliver on the long term. People with the capability to influence change inside media companies, brands and agencies seem to be speaking out more on how essential it is to balance automation with an institutionalized commitment to strategic collaboration and scaling of creative approaches.  



There have been a few recent public, influential rallying cries for staying true to the right kind of collaboration

First up, there was the very interesting conversation between the IAB's Randall Rothenberg and Ross Levinsohn, EVP of Yahoo, Americas, during Innovation Days: "The Future of Display." Among other things, Levinsohn called for big brands to take the lead on the more strategic, imaginative collaborations between media and creative.  

Some people rightly assert that big brands and premium media companies alone cannot save us from the eventual perils of commoditization. So, as a reminder, we are also talking about the role agencies themselves must play in restoring balance -- an incredibly challenging role when there is no single agency model to follow. The models and workflows are all over the place -- a state that the honest among us will not deny. 

The next heartening flash was a piece this morning on Uniliver's going small -- bringing in an integrated start-up agency for that agency's rational take on what it takes to collaborate today, to do right by your clients. Granted, the agency is led by old guard from the big agency world, with a former Ogilvy principal at the helm. But, this move is a reminder that there is something to be said for staying nimble in your workflow, keeping channel agnostic, and engaging the full ecosystem, without channel bias -- as you go to do your best work for clients.

According to this article, "Mike Polk, president-global foods, home and personal care at Unilever, said Roth Partners, an agency headed by former Ogilvy & Mather executive Rick Roth that encompasses general advertising, digital, shopper and promotion marketing, beat out big rivals because it could provide a 'channel-agnostic' approach with the right talent faster than other Unilever shops or holding companies were prepared to do... Naming the small newcomer to Unilever's roster wasn't meant as 'a shot across the bow' for the giant's global agencies, Mr. Polk said. But it's also a clear sign that they stand to lose out if they can't deliver the comprehensive approach that he said Unilever wants." 

These are but a few big bright lights on this topic right now. So, as we experience the exchange, DSP, algorithmic and automation boom; as we see big media players (Google, Facebook, to name a few) going big on display; it's good to see big media companies, big brands and those with an ability to spur agency change splashing a little cold water on their faces and stepping it up.

And sometimes stepping it up actually means stepping back and having the right people at the table (research, strategy, media, creative, channel experts), at the right time, to take their time and get things right.

2 comments about "Knowing When To Slow Down The Machine ".
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  1. Phillip Djwa from Agentic Communications Inc., June 20, 2011 at 4:57 p.m.

    Kendall, love reading your articles. They always make so much sense to me. The "slow-down" approach is also about having the right approach in budgeting. If, as an agency, we are being paid enough to be able to sit back and think deeply about a client's issue, we can more than likely come up with an appropriate solution. It's when clients need cheap answers that automation starts to win. But for me, those are the wrong kind of clients. I've had lots of opportunities to grow, but I have preferred to stay small and focus on opportunities that can give me the thinking space to do great work.

  2. Phillip Djwa from Agentic Communications Inc., June 20, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.

    One other point on collaboration that applies to us as a digital agency. Given a value chain approach to professional services, (i.e. certain agencies do certain things and not others, so there is shared accountability) it's hard to be "agile" (i.e. iterative) in collaboration, as typically it works better with "waterfall". What this means is that when one agency is finished, the next begins. Think of completing design before building a website for example. The problem is that this kind of collaboration doesn't allow for the intense mind-meld of true collaboration and the fortuitous accidents that occur when truly creative people get together.

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