Ad Execs Debate Data, AORs, Pay For Performance

Introducing the Advertising Week session "That's Debatable!," one of the folks leading the panel (from COG NYC),  said: "It's a really exciting time in our business." Debatable? The statement on the screen onstage countered: "It's a shit show."

And so began the session, with two teams arguing the pro or con side of statements ranging from “Agencies should have skin in the game” to “Holding companies are the evil empire.”  

(OK, that last idea was tabled after a COG guy got a pretend phone call from “the lawyers from Omnicom, Publicis and WPP, who said we cannot debate this topic.”)

Arguing that “brands need an agency of record,” Eliza Esquivel, vice president of global strategy, Mondelez International, said AORs could function as brand historians, remembering the mistakes clients made so they could avoid redoing blunders, just as “my three best friends from high school can call me out on my shit.”

Having an AOR will also aid clients’ “self-preservation,” allowing them to avoid having 50 different agencies doing one specific job and too many meetings “to coordinate one tweet.” So said Matt MacDonald, executive vice president/executive creative director, BBDO.

Does data kill creativity? No, said Bobby Hershfield, partner & chief creative officer , SS+K, who argued that data can help agencies discover the best way to reach an audience. For example, when working on the 2012 Obama/Biden campaign, SS+K strategists worked up a “just get out and vote” campaign for Millennials, since “we knew through data that most likely 60% would vote for Obama.”

But data “will drive creativity to the safe middle,” countered MacDonald. ”Persuasion is an art, not a science,” he said, adding that numbers can’t “tell us the right piece of music to use, or how to make somebody cry in 60 seconds.”

On the question of agencies having “skin in the game,” Esquivel argued for “a model that allows [agencies] to be compensated for the value of an idea,” allowing them to “be on more of a level playing field with the client.”

But agencies already have skin in the game, and “agency compensation has been cut by half,” argued Avi Dan, a Forbes contributor, who noted that “ I never saw a client who could give their agency equal power in decision-making.”

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