London Calling: A Whirlwind Visit With Agencies At The AdForum Summit

I have just returned from the AdForum London Summit, an invitation-only event where 44 search consultants from 16 countries got a priceless opportunity to see some of the world’s best agencies present their wares and get valuable insights into the future of marketing and creativity. 

Search consultant attendees included London’s key players – most notably our UK sibling Oystercatchers – with strong representation across Europe and from Australia, the UAE, and South Africa. I was the only American attendee as was the case at last year’s São Paulo Summit. 

Agency participants included Saatchi & Saatchi, Havas Group, Anomaly, MBA, BBH, Fold7, Sunshine, Hasan & Partners (Sweden), Perfect Fools (Sweden), Lucky Generals, WPP, VCCP, Exposure, and Forsman & Bodenfors (Sweden) – in addition to social networking giant Facebook. 

Highlights ranged from seeing new Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide CEO Robert Senior lay out his vision for the agency to an intimate dinner with Sir Martin Sorrell and 12 WPP CEOs where the two-way dialog was, open, frank, and challenging. 



Several trends emerged from the Summit. 

London Remains Ascendant

The UK is the world’s fifth largest advertising market but market size does not necessarily correlate to creative dominance. Although the U.S. market is nearly seven times the size of the U.K. and home to some of the world’s best agencies, the depth and breadth of talent in London is simply stunning. Great work is coming from creative hubs around the world but London stands out for its dominance in planning – coupled with great creative and omnichannel marketing. 

Content is King

It seems like I hear this phrase 1,000 times a day. Content may be king but few marketers or agencies have managed to effectively wrangle the content beast or marry it effectively with data to maximize its effectiveness. Many agencies at the Summit presented innovative comms plans based on incredibly strong consumer insights. We also saw a great demonstration on how data can match content to each target audience segment dramatically boosting response rates. 

We’re all Digital Now

Digital is embedded into all our lives so creating separate “digital” marketing plans just does not make sense in 2015. Anomaly Founding Partner Carl Johnson summed it up best by stating, “Think of digital as a power to let you do things you could never do before.”This is driving a spirit of innovation amongst all the agencies and offers a real sense of purpose for the industry moving forward. 

Agencies are in the Business of Business

While I still meet agencies intent of creating epic campaigns that will make them more famous than their clients, I was gratified that so many agencies talked about their focus on business results. I have heard the “we are all about your business” claim before but have never seen it backed up with such insightful, deep business analysis, which starts by asking the right questions. It was also evident that agency leaders are now more hands-on working on their clients’ problems more than ever before. I just wish more clients would understand that effective marketing is rocket fuel for their businesses and trying to buy rocket fuel for pennies on the dollar could crash their rockets. 

The Agency Model is Continuing to Evolve

Clients are demanding new ideas, new structures and new models to enable the best approach to reach their audiences. Robert Senior of Saatchi & Saatchi said it best when he proclaimed, “Too many agencies adopt a colonial structure in a post-colonial world.” It was clear that a lot of experimentation is being conducted to find the optimum agency models for the post-digital era. 

Small is Beautiful

While there will always be an important role for large multinational ad agencies, marketing innovation often occurs at the fringes. There was no shortage of small agencies at the Summit founded by accomplished marketing professionals. What they had in common was an entrepreneurial spirit (many have launched independent consumer businesses), a portfolio of clients which always included some very large global marketers, terrific work, strong results, and a great understanding of what they are good at. These agencies are highly discriminating and routinely turn down clients whom they perceive are not a good fit. 

I look forward to the Fall New York Summit where I will have the opportunity to meet with the best and most innovative North American agencies over five days. It’s a gruelling – but incredible – experience I would not miss.

1 comment about "London Calling: A Whirlwind Visit With Agencies At The AdForum Summit".
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  1. Benny Thomas from Rise&Shine&Partners, April 23, 2015 at 3:12 p.m.

    Russel, you make some very good points, particularly about the need for agencies to figure out their content strategy. One impediment to this, quite simply, migh tbe that agencies don't like to let go of thereins. And a content plan usually requires working with outside talent and melding ideas rather than dictating to your own producers. On the other hand, I have seen that a lot of external content people come up with ideas that may be popular, but do not further the brand's objectives. If we can sublimate our teritorialism, the two perspectives coming together can be a genuinely powerful force in an attention-deficit world. 

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