We agree. Simplification is required in these complex times.

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal by Alexandra Bruell titled “Ad Groups Try to Simplify in Complex Times” discussed the difficulties of transforming from the traditional ad agency model to one driven by data science, technology and the mashup of services that were siloed for far too long.

The article and the industry angst resonates deeply for us at W2O Group since we have been transforming our firm this way since 2009.  Of course, back then, it didn’t seem all that cool to add in data science, fully embrace technology and start reinventing traditional communications and marketing models.  Now, it’s a no-brainer and a race to evolve quicker than market needs.

Here is what our clients are asking for that was emphasized via this article’s focus.

#1 – Clients Want Real Integration – They want analytics, planning, creative and the resulting campaigns to reflect intellectual, not physical integration. We like to say that if insights are driving our decisions, we are in the right mindset.  Gone are the days when we just “had an idea.”  Now, every aspect of our offering is driven by insights.

#2 – Work for Clients Like You Are the Client – Sir Martin Sorrell said “ensuring our people work seamlessly together through client teams and country and sub-regional managers to provide integrated benefits for clients is absolutely essential.”  We agree and we have found that actions matter far more than words, which is why we have always operated with one P&L for our five operating companies.  Our teams know that the only thing that matters is building the right team that brings the requisite solutions to our clients’ business problems.  We believe P&L infighting is the scourge of our industry and we want no part of it. Neither do our clients.

#3 – We Are ALL digital – Many of the larger agencies are struggling with “who owns” digital? For us, it is easy. Everyone. We ask 100% of our team members to understand digital, understand analytics and know how to solve problems and spot opportunities.  If everyone is digital, we are also media-neutral in how we approach a client’s need and that also improves how we integrate and build the right teams.

#4 – Earned & Shared Media Are Redefining PESO, Particularly Paid – In the article, Ms. Bruell writes “the holding companies’ complex structures have also impeded their ability to move quickly at a time when clients are demanding more real-time digital marketing responses to daily events, particularly on social media.”  We agree and see the emergence of audience architecture, social graphics and agile media planning reinventing how we build campaigns.  In today’s world, via our algorithms, we can identify and track our exact audience.  We can determine what content they desire about a brand or related to it and we can adjust to their needs by the hour, day or week. The headline is simple. Our customers are driving earned and shared media, so if we listen closely to their exact needs, they show us the game plan. If we are tracking paid media primarily, we only know how successful our campaign was, but we learn very little about what our customers actually want. Combining earned, shared, owned and paid will change how we plan, think and act.

#5 – The shift from video to visual experience – Everyone is pushing hard to provide more videos for social media platforms. We’re continuing to explore how our brains process visual experiences, so we can provide the right visual content at the right time, whether it is the right image, video, website or other visual educational content on the journey to form a view on a brand.  You need powerful analytics and a heavy dose of the right machine learning models to see how significant it is to know what will resonate inside our brains. In general, about 2/3 of us prefer to learn visually. It feels like the very beginning of a new way to reach our customers is starting to happen.

#6 – Clients Don’t Want to Pay for Overlapping Services – The article states that “what they want is a single business relationship that gives them access to creative, technology and media expertise without having to potentially pay for overlapping services.” This is exactly why we are continually building a shared services team that takes us from insights to content to planning. One powerful engine of expertise can be shaped for each client, based on what they need. While always a work in progress, we’re well on our way to meeting the needs of all sizes of companies. It is too painful and leads to less innovation if we try to do this in each operating company. Areas like analytics and how we embrace technology require that we go deep and get it right and keep evolving.

#7 – The Expanded Version of “Creative” – We have the highest respect for our creative teams who come up with ideas, based on insights, that we would never think about. This same spatial knowledge, which is a real gift, exists with our analysts and increasingly in general management leaders who have absorbed the principles of analytics and creative and happen to have this type of mind. It’s leading to an entirely new way to think of what “creative” really is if it is truly maximized for our clients.

We’re excited about the future and we look forward to continuously improving our offering to match and stay slightly ahead of the needs of our clients.  We also know how talented the leaders are within holding companies and remain confident that they will figure out how to overcome their legacy structure and systems to find new ways to innovate for their clients.  We have been relatively unencumbered from a restrictive structure since Jim Weiss founded the company in 2001 so we believe this has allowed us to evolve and scale based solely on client needs in this changing environment. And that’s not going to change.

The result is that we’ll all benefit. Our collective efforts will represent the next generation of our industry. It will be part communications, part marketing, part data science and part things we don’t know yet. Who knows what the era will be called. All we know is it will have a lot of “mad women and men” who can’t change fast enough.

By Bob Pearson, Vice Chair and Chief of Innovation & Jennifer Gottlieb, Client Service Officer at W2O Group