Online All Stars, Media Planners: Nigel Morris, CEO, Aegis Media Americas

Nigel MorrisMolding the Medium

Nigel Morris cut his teeth on digital, so it's only fitting that he's leading one of the world's largest media shops, given how vital digital and online have become to all marketing. He's the CEO of Aegis Media Americas and before that he founded Isobar, one of the first and now one of the largest digital agencies.

Morris has called Aegis his working home since 1992. Now, as head of the agency's operations across the Americas he is tasked with setting the strategy for the company; it's a vision that inflects across disciplines with a strong focus on convergence, digital and multiplatform planning.

That approach has helped Aegis score a raft of new business since Morris took the helm. In the last 18 months alone, Carat, an Aegis Media company, has won Beiersdorf, The J.M. Smucker Company, Red Bull, Relativity Media, Diageo, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and The Home Depot, totaling $2 billion in net new business.

Morris gives ample credit to his team at Aegis and Carat. Aegis has attracted a large number of ad executives from around the world into its various units, and has promoted from within too. Recent new appointments include the promotion of Doug Ray to head Carat USA and Catherine Davis to lead Vizeum, the media planning and buying network at Aegis that's focused on connecting online and offline media. They have been instrumental in reshaping Aegis into a so-called "convergent agency of the future," Morris says.

"We wanted to really build an organization that enabled collaboration, but also enabled it in a way to deliver fantastic and holistic solutions and execute on them," he says. "We have a completely new operating model for the business, where all of the agencies within the group report up into one P&L, and all the leaders of those agencies are in a very meaningful way compensated on the performance of the whole organization, not just their business unit. We literally built a culture which is all about collaborating - and it's driven by that vision of true convergence."

Breaking down silos has, of course, been a big issue for the media business for the last several years, but the actual doing of it hasn't always materialized at agencies. That's why Aegis built in financial incentives to reward convergence and cross-platform work.

"If you don't have an organizational structure that promotes and rewards convergence, you can have all the presentations in the world about it but you won't be able to deliver against it. We have made it an intricate part of our organization and we are now structured for it," Morris notes.

Morris also says Aegis has been growing lately because of a focus on the consumer. The agency fields its own annual research study called the Consumer Connection Study, which is a survey of 20,000 respondents on brand usage, media behavior and consumer attributes.

The research plays a large role in helping to guide clients through both complicated and emerging channels. "What we are seeing is the importance not just for millenials but for moms and other groups of the different forms of social and mobile media in how they run their lives and the important central role those play. We've also seen how many people are migrating towards watching favorite tv content on multiple devices," Morris says. "That's giving us a lot of rigor in what we recommend and the confidence to change, because a lot of clients will say 'Intuitively this buy or plan makes sense, but where is the data?' and we can say, 'Here it is.' "

Before joining Aegis in the early '90s, Morris worked in fashion and corporate identity. During his time at Aegis, he formed Carat Interactive International and relaunched the Carat brand. That background fed into his push to start Isobar in 2003. That was a risky time to launch a digital agency coming out of the dot-com bust, but it paid off. "I went to the board and told them I thought there was a genuine opportunity to create the world's first digital global network and they said yes, and I am proud of that because now Isobar has more than 3,500 people," he says. In addition, Isobar is global and today spans nearly 40 countries. During Morris' tenure at Isobar, he grew digital revenues from 2 percent in 2003 to 29 percent of Aegis Media's revenue in 2008.

The role of an agency is shifting, though. Many marketers are creating their own branded content and reaching out directly to consumers, as well as meeting on their own with digital media start-ups. Just as consumers can now reach one another directly via the Web, brands can too. But as consumption patterns fracture into smaller slices, agencies can prove their value, Morris says.

"It has become almost impossible for clients to do it all themselves," he notes. "Yes, some clients are bringing social media monitoring in-house, as an example, but on the other hand if you are a big brand you need the ability to act upon that 24-7 and 365 days a year and the agencies are doing that. We have the ability to really go in and advise clients as to how these changes can fundamentally impact their business, and that's what clients are looking for. We are seeing much more wide-ranging and interesting conversations with senior clients now."

What's more, the current media landscape is creating complicated but fascinating opportunities for agencies and marketers. Brands can now engage in a deep and meaningful level at the point of sale, such as via search on mobile devices, for instance. They can fulfill sales and stimulate transactions closer with ads and sponsorship, Morris says.

"The media environment is almost atomized now, but the capability of media is much greater," Morris says. "The challenge as an industry is 'Can you grasp the opportunity?' We have to change the way we work and be focused on outcomes, not proxy measures of output."

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