Abolish Silos and Champion Creativity as Your Guiding Force

Let’s bid farewell to the 'Mad Men versus Math Men' of the past

Over the past few years, it’s nearly impossible to sit in an agency pitch prep meeting without someone attributing the never-ending pitchapalooza to the revolving door for today’s CMO. For those of us who have experienced its disruptive impact firsthand, it has become a powerful guiding KPI for measuring client stability and health.

According to the latest report by Spencer Stuart, CMO tenure has dropped to a 10-year low of 40 months, a stat that may not bode well for agency partners. But, there might be another headline that may offer us a whole new path to servicing clients today. Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, has traded in the CMO title to create the company’s first chief digital and commercial officer “to reflect the ‘blurring lines’ between digital marketing and commerce.”

At first blush, this might seem like a major challenge to the traditional agency model, where media and creative are housed separately and often only communicate when creative is trafficked for activation. Upon closer examination, it offers agencies a unique opportunity to rethink their own siloes and champion creativity as a guiding force over every discipline.

Media is creative

In a landscape where most media is owned by consumers, brands can no longer simply force their way in and expect a profitable ROAS. Buying media is simply a tool, albeit a potentially powerful one, for brands to earn attention and invite the participation of consumers.

In order to leverage the full power of media today, planning has to go beyond efficiency and precision and answer the very same questions that creatives grapple with every day: What is the unmet need of my consumer? How can my brand solve this problem? When, where and how can I convey this in an emotionally truthful way so I matter to them?

Today’s media impacts cultural conversation and creates real emotional and rational value for consumers.

—Shoshana Winter​, svp, executive director of creative, content and strategy, Merkle

The answer will result in ideas that seamlessly blend the creative (what we say in the ad) with the media (where, when and how often we say it). It’s no accident that more and more agencies are hiring chief creative officers and developing content studios to service their clients, but it would be a mistake to silo those groups from the core media planning and buying teams. Instead, it should become part of the very culture to infuse creative thinking into every function.

Big ideas are media agnostic

The only way to really be seen and heard today is to let go of our classic brand versus demand thinking. Social commerce campaigns that, in a single ad unit, introduce, engage and sell a consumer have blown the lid off of that binary view. There are fewer and fewer affordable and scalable media channels that are pure “brand,” where we have the luxury of telling a beautiful story in a 30- or 60-second film and then expect to drive product sales.

Thankfully, most media channels today are data-enabled, allowing us to speak to consumers as individuals and not as anonymous masses. That’s an opportunity, not a barrier.

Smart campaigns are founded on powerful insights that are designed to live anywhere and have the scale to win share of heart and share of wallet. That is what makes an idea big today.

We must let go of old ideas around what drives awareness as opposed to what drives conversion and begin to think of all media environments as doing more than driving ad impressions. Today’s media impacts cultural conversation and creates real emotional and rational value for consumers.

Nurture creative strategic thinkers in every part of the ecosystem

This transition from simply activating media to activating audiences requires that we attract, nurture and develop talent with a less bifurcated skill set. Let’s bid farewell to the Mad Men versus Math Men of the past. Let’s create agency and brand cultures that celebrate curiosity, creative thinking and analytics prowess across every function.

Of course, art directors will still need to know Photoshop, but they should also be expected to dig into the data and understand what is driving the audience strategy. They must keep fluent on emerging media platforms so that they can expand their thinking beyond messaging and include time, place and experiences.

Media planners no longer have the luxury of only being the “numbers” guys. They need to go beyond the pure data and work closely with their strategy and creative teams to uncover the audience insights that will unlock a new white space for a brand, brought to life across every touch point.

It’s not about perfection, it’s about progress

For some brands and agencies, this kind of thinking may seem revolutionary or, at the very least, hard to pull off. The idea of doing another reorg and having to train teams to behave differently, especially in our remote working world, seems daunting.

The good news is that you can see the impact in small wins. Find a project or campaign to test this kind of thinking; get a small team of collaborative right- and left-brain thinkers together to solve a brand problem with these new rules. See what happens. Celebrate and socialize the wins. Because the proof is always in the results and, from there, the rest will become second nature.