Agency Leaders Discuss Mission Critical Challenges, Opportunities For 2021

For Adland, 2020 was fasten-your-seatbelts kind of year and agency leaders told a virtual 4A’s gathering that all the pivots and quick thinking they were forced to do have them excited about the potential of 2021.

And accelerated capabilities around data — and more importantly the ability to parse consumer-related intelligence from it — will help agencies drive their relationships with clients.

Mediabrands CEO Daryl Lee describes those improved capabilities as the “magic weapon” that enables agencies to be “the strategic orchestrators for our clients.”

Justin Thomas-Copeland CEO DDB North America said clients are providing greater challenges to agencies as they grapple with major issues like the COVID-19 pandemic. “They’re asking for help and demanding creative solutions,” he said. Data, creativity and “the right talent base” are key components to those solutions, he added.



Horizon CEO Bill Koenigsberg said the challenge for agencies remains the same — driving positive business outcomes for clients. Now, he added, with enhanced tools around data, agencies have the potential to become clients’ “most valued partner.” And the approach is evolving away from silos to more collaborative efforts. “We were teams of experts,” he said. “Now you need to be an expert team.”

Dentsu CEO Jacki Kelley said that integration will be a defining element of 2021, particularly around “idea-led data driving capability and tech enablement.”

Kelley added that the industry needs to work better together to improve industry standards which are “thinner than ever.” She said she agreed with P&G’s Marc Pritchard that advertisers and agencies must stop perpetuating “negative stereotypes.”

Koenigsberg agreed noting that consumers have the power to build up or “tear down” brands which need to be mindful of marketplace behavior.

Thomas-Copeland submitted that talent is now the “the be-all and end-all of the business,” and that diverse talent is critical to success. He stressed that diversity transcends race and ethnicity and extends to social, personal, educational and the experiences that agency teams bring to the table.

He added that DDB is redoubling its efforts to enable people to grow. A lack of growth opportunities has been key to Adland’s past struggles with diversifying, he said.

Lee agreed, noting that Mediabrands has deployed a new strategic focus on Black employees in the U.S. that is defining barriers and devising growth programs so that they don’t feel “stuck” and decide to leave.

Koenigsberg shared details about a program the agency put in place last year that forced clients to look at diverse audiences that they were likely undervaluing. “There were some hard conversations and you have to make a business case for value,” he said. The agency also doubled its investment in minority-owned media last year, he added.

Kelley noted that one of her “epiphany moments” last year came when she realized that her company was “mistaking activity for progress” on the DEI front. All the activity “hasn’t really changed the representation of the organization,” she said.

That has led to a new approach, including a program now ongoing where 800 company leaders are undergoing “intense DEI training” so that they have a better understanding of the issues and thus will be better equipped to enact effective changes.

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