Who’s On First?

In my previous columns, we’ve explored the ongoing transformation of our industry. Last month’s article on the “engagement-neutral agency” [A&C, Oct. 24] was my prediction of how things might evolve in the coming years. If you believe, as I do, that successful marketing lies in holistically engaging customers across perception, behavior, interaction and transaction, then we can begin to explore the more practical matter of what agency teams will look like in order to deliver on this vision.

The core job of the engagement-neutral agency team is to develop universal insights and creative principles that can travel across modes of engagement. Once this work is completed, various campaign teams can develop channel-appropriate executions that map to the insights and creative principles. We call this team “purpose-built” because most agencies do not currently have all of the functions in-house. Instead, teams must be built through partnerships among specialist agencies, assembled on the fly for a particular client’s needs—hence, “purpose-built.” Here is a first attempt at defining what that team might look like:

Account director: A new breed of account directors who function as cross-channel solutions builders will lead the overall client relationship. They must fundamentally understand the business and the marketing challenges the team is tasked with solving. People with cross-channel expertise are unfortunately too rare, but experience in at least two disciplines (e.g., direct and interactive) is a basic job requirement for this individual.

Universal planner: Traditional agencies have brand planners, direct agencies have contact planners, and interactive agencies have experience planners. Each yields a discipline-specific insight and plan that by definition cannot solve problems of holistic customer engagement. Universal planning is a new way of thinking that focuses on two key problems: 1) What are the big, discipline-independent insights that can inform work in all channels? and 2) How should clients divide their marketing budget across channels to yield the best ROI?

Data analyst: Working side by side with the universal planner is a data analyst, both to glean insights from existing data and to determine the right methodology for measuring results based on a client’s business and marketing objectives. Data analysts typically come from direct marketing or interactive agencies and have not been a part of the mix within traditional agencies, but this must change. In order to restore credibility to our industry, we must provide results that can survive the financial scrutiny of client CFOs and CEOs.

Media planner: The separation of media planning from the overall strategic and creative process turned out to be a mistake. Media planning must be reintegrated into the holistic customer-engagement process, and hence a media planner must have a seat at the table, regardless of who is doing the final negotiating and buying. Some of the biggest ideas in marketing today revolve around unique modes of customer engagement based on programmatic media ideas. The purpose-built team needs these kinds of thinkers.

Creative director: Inside traditional agencies, “big ideas” are brand narratives that uniquely tell the story about a brand, and cross-channel integration is often defined as derivative executions of this narrative into other forms of engagement, like the Web. This approach rarely succeeds because not all channels are driven by narratives. (The Web certainly is not.) So the engagement-neutral agency thinks about creative organizing principles—from brand essences to visual styles—that can be systematically applied across channels. Examples include Apple’s “Think different” or Bank of America’s “Higher standards,” both of which set a multichannel creative bar and visual style without constraining work to a narrative structure. These organizing principles inform everything from product development to store design to ads.

Interaction designer: A key insight of holistic customer engagement is that successful work in one channel drives behavioral results in other channels. Outbound campaigns that successfully drive awareness and interest yield inbound behaviors of research and consideration and ultimately transaction. Interaction designers, who are the user-experience engineers of the inbound interactive channel, are best equipped to deal with these issues of channel synchronization and to ensure that the work holds together as a holistic customer experience.

Technologist: Technology continues to transform nearly all forms of customer engagement. In fact, technology has become a new creative discipline as we consider all of the new and emerging forms of engagement via a proliferating array of digital devices. It is often technologists who drive innovation by opening our eyes to ways in which a technology can be utilized or adapted to create a new form of engagement. Without technology at the table, we tend to fall back on worn-out, traditional forms of engagement.

Producer: The development of multichannel customer engagement requires the creation of a wide array of creative and technological assets. Interactive agencies have always produced most of their assets in-house, while traditional agencies outsource production. With limited client budgets needing to fund work in more channels, cost efficiencies will require new forms of digitally enabled in-house production. The multichannel producer coordinates the disparate production needs and manages the timelines while uncovering innovative ways to do more with less.

The purpose-built team described above is one way to approach the engagement-neutral agency model. Over time, I suspect that many other approaches and models will emerge. Yet the number of walls and barriers preventing the formation of teams like these is innumerable. It will be interesting to see how the industry reconfigures and reinvents itself to offer clients these new combinations of talent and collaboration.

Bob Greenberg is chairman, CEO and chief creative officer of R/GA in New York and a monthly columnist for ‘Adweek.’ He can be reached at bobg@rga.com.