Who actually remembers ads for their data implementation strategy?

Anthony Abouzeid

There’s never been a more exciting time to work in our industry.

Sounds rich coming from a 28-year-old who’s only been in the job for six years right? But in my short time, there’s been a paradigm shift in the way agencies are able to add value to their clients.

The push to deliver data-driven approaches at scale, coupled with creativity, means that the fabric of agencies is changing to accommodate those demands for our clients. Agencies are having to accrue a wider set of skills in order to marry consumer experiences with data and technology in a seamless manner.

In order for us to do this and do it successfully, we’re having to rethink the way we train our people. How desirable is the candidate who has noted on their CV that they have “experience in digital” or have “worked with data”? Almost every job spec you come across now demands a candidate has some form of knowledge working with an acronym like DMP, DSP, SSP – the list is endless.

The pace of change is quick and agencies are needing to become more agile. The need for upskilling people of every level, in all departments is crucial for ensuring that we’re fit for the future.

Data hysteria

However, all of this comes with a warning. Are we forgetting why we got into this business in the first place? Are we creating the data hysteria ourselves or are we actually listening to what our clients want? In a recent article by Nick Manning for M&M Global, one of his opening paragraphs reads:

“In today’s exciting digital age it’s easy to lose sight of some of the essentials that remain true about the advertising industry. It has become more complex, fragmented and technical, to the extent that the wood sometimes gets lost for the trees.”

That sentiment is shared among many of my peers. For me, the lure of the job wasn’t just the promise of a life replicating that of Mad Men, but the challenge to find solutions to problems in the most creative way possible. From the outside looking in, who actually remembers ads for their data implementation strategy or what insights some back-end data management platform could glean? I’m going out on a limb here to say not many.

When you’re selling an idea to a client, what gets them excited? From my experience, it’s usually the same things that get consumers excited, because although we are specialists in our fields, we’re still consumers. We tend to think far less than we think we do, so are we looking through the right lens when we approach media planning?

I know that I’m in danger of oversimplifying what we do, as well as upsetting those data specialists out there and the clients whose KPIs live in this space, but that’s not the point of this article. Broadly speaking, I believe the emphasis on creativity and human-driven insights is diminishing. We need to reassess the balance of what’s valuable to our clients and what’s really going to make people stop and listen in this increasingly fragmented landscape.

Of course, there’s enormous value in data informing and supporting our strategic approach but this shouldn’t be fundamental to great pieces of work.

Ignoring our right brain

To address this, we need agencies to start being more mindful with the tone of voice they use to speak to their people. What are the criteria and conditions that we’re setting to give kudos to work taking place in the industry? What examples are we showcasing as “best-in-class” and why? Sometimes, it feels like we’re so keen on weaving the vast amount of data sources into ‘our thinking’ that we’re ignoring our right brain.

This is also true with what and how we communicate to our clients. It is easy to bombard clients with the vast (and ever-increasing) array of data capabilities because we think that is what they want to hear. It is more of a challenge to take the time to get to the root of what they are actually excited about.

If we go into these meetings with blue sky ideas and real ambition, we break the mould of the clients’ own thinking and that’s when you get that spark in the room. This creates an environment where a seed of an idea can grow into something beyond what the agency and client ever envisaged, unless the dreaded “we don’t have enough budget for that” gets in the way of course.

It’s about keeping the data sell relevant to them. Clients are always asking us how can we really get our customers attention? How can we infiltrate their day without being overtly disruptive? It’s about understanding the moments of communication and tailoring our message to fit in with those moments, you could call it a moment’s planning approach.

I guess the whole point of this is just to give you a gentle nudge and not forget why we got into this exciting, evolving, challenging industry. Take a step back, find the right balance between head and heart and never stop being inquisitive, imaginative and brave.

This article was originally published in Campaign.