In 2014, MediaPost named The Media Kitchen our “Search (Programmatic) Agency of the Year,” our first ever recognition for that category, largely because it did away with a siloed way of thinking about media. By fusing its search and programmatic practices under one integrated view of a “biddable media” marketplace, TMK hit all our core criteria -- vision, innovation and leadership -- simply by seeing and implementing a better way. In a similar way, we are recognizing TMK as our “Mobile Agency of the Year” for 2016, not because of what it did to treat mobile as a standalone media practice, but because of the way it integrated it as part of a greater whole, you know, media.
By understanding that mobile is not, in fact, it’s own standalone medium, but a way in which people connect with and experience a variety of media -- especially brand-connected media -- experiences, TMK has transcended the art and science of mobile communications in a way many fully integrated agencies and pure-play mobile shops are still figuring out.
“When you’re talking about media today, you’re talking about mobile media,” asserts TMK President Barry Lowenthal, explaining, “We think that thinking has to be integrated into everything we do.”
Yes, TMK still utilizes labels to distinguish media channels such as “social” and even “TV” when coming up with communications plans, but they are all mobile in some way. Take television. TMK began partnering with connected TV data aggregator Samba.TV to understand not just how to reach people via linear TV viewing, but across their entire journey.
“For us, Samba is not just television. It may be the core part of how they go to market, but it was about being able to activate those TV schedules across devices using Samba’s data to understand how to integrate mobile into our communications plans.
Similarly, that’s how TMK has been working with cross-device audience targeting platform NinthDecimal, not just to understand how to reach people when they are on their mobile devices, but to better understand what people are doing when brands are reaching them at mobile moments and how that relates to the overall communications strategy.
In some ways, TMK’s approach -- leveraging partnerships to integrate mobile experiences into the overall brand strategy -- is not new. It’s part of its founding principles. It’s just applying them in new ways with new partners because the way to reach and influence consumers has changed and the agency is adapting along with it.
“When Kirshenbaum & Bond was founded in 1987, Richard Kirshenbaum always said two things which shaped our DNA in the way we think about media,” explains Lowenthal, referring to the origin of TMK and its parent agency KBS+. “The two things were: 1) A big idea can come from anyplace; and 2) big ideas are only born out of collaboration. What’s changed over the years is who we collaborate with and the kinds of partners we collaborate with. Now we are partnering with startups and ad tech companies, we’re partnering with data providers. And that’s where our big ideas are coming from.”
Whether it is Samba, NinthDecimal, Google, Facebook or Spotify, Lowenthal says TMK’s leverage comes from working with the best partners that can activate its client’s brand communications strategies.
“In the past year, the best collaborations were with our mobile partners,” he says, citing breakthrough work such as a mobile “playlist” campaign developed by Spotfiy that helped launch Noosa yogurt nationwide, as an example.
TMK’s partnerships aren’t always simple vendor relationships. One of the things that differentiates it from other shops -- even much bigger agencies -- is that it puts skin in its own game, investing in promising startups through its KBS+ Ventures arm, to gain an early competitive advantage.
Importantly, KBS+ Ventures has always been overseen by TMK’s Chief Digital Media Officer, originally Darren Herman and for the past several years, Josh Engroff.
If you want to really understand TMK’s innovation thesis -- not just its investment thesis -- you should spend time inside the ventures unit, but a good proxy for that experience is to attend TMK’s annual “Ventures Day” in New York City, where it hosts a wide variety of promising startups, some of which are portfolio companies, but not necessarily.
Based on this year’s summit, you could see how the agency was starting to think about the next generation of mobile experiences -- the kind that will be powered by AI, chatbots, and new kinds of messaging apps that will transform brand communications from simple media experiences into what some are beginning to call “conversational marketing.”
Among the presenters at this year’s Ventures Day were “startups” as big as Facebook, which explained how brands could be developing new forms of mobile-based messaging right now. Another was msg.ai, a promising startup working on automating the experience even more powerfully by leveraging AI and machine learning technologies.
“It’s why we invested in msg.ai, because we know the next few years are going to be about messaging platforms and a lot of that is going to be about AI,” Lowenthal explains.
Just the ways TMK consolidated its thinking about search and programmatic display into one integrated biddable media marketplace, he says the agency is doing the same thing now with mobile, social and, soon, messaging, AI and conversational marketing.“It’s not 100% clear how brands are going to participate in that ecosystem yet, but it is clear that they will. We’re organizing what we do now so we can be in a position to leverage that.”