360i CEO Sarah Hofstetter On The DNA Of A Modern Lead Agency

sarahhofstetter360i – the digital agency recently recognized by the Forrester Wave – prides itself on its ability to adapt to rapid changes in technology.

“Marketers need agencies that are adaptable, but still retain the fundamentals,” CEO Sarah Hofstetter said.

Forrester singled out 360i’s strong data chops, its ability to facilitate collaboration rather than competition between interagency teams and its suite of integrated services.

“We’re always looking for more opportunities to work with clients on both media and creative, because you get the best work when the lines of demarcation are fluid,” Hofstetter said. “They’re going to come back together again. It seems so obvious, yet most clients and agencies separate them.”

She spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: As a lead agency at Dentsu Aegis, how do you incentivize teams with separate P&Ls to work together? 

SARAH HOFSTETTER: We’ve seen interagency planning from many different entry points. For some clients, we’re a media agency, for some we’re the creative agency, for some we do it all and for some we just touch all. We can be empathetic to every entrance point and, as a result, we can set everyone up for success.

What’s your strategy?

It varies. For some accounts were responsible for most, if not all, of the components. In other cases, we’ll be the lead and only responsible for activation on a particular environment. There’s no formula because clients' needs are different. It’s as simple as having everybody understand how their roles contribute to a better outcome.

We want to align against business problems, not against services that happen to be on the menu for today’s special. Our goal is to make sure that we have a potent toolbox, and that if we don’t, we can find the right partners who will bring it.

What type of agency is most equipped to lead an account? 

The agency that should lead is the one that has the most line of sight into the business and can identify white space for the brand. You need an agency that’s flexible. Whether it’s a paid, earned or built media execution, you want to think about the right direction for the brand and then align teams.

There are plenty of situations where we’re working in support of other agencies. But we're born in the digital age, so I have a bias. Marketers need agencies that can lead in a constantly changing environment. I don’t care what your label is, it’s much more about what you can deliver.

How do you create teams to offer that? 

We take an agnostic approach to the client's opportunity. A comms plan helps us identify the role of paid, owned and earned media across the consumer journey or purchase funnel. In some cases, it’s tied to earning attention where nobody has heard of you before. Maybe you’re a well-known brand and you need to drive reconsideration, or maybe there’s a perception gap. It all has to start with insights and strategy to understand the points to activate against and how to prioritize dollars.

We create teams to activate across that landscape, whether that’s entirely 360i's remit or in partnership with other agencies. We have a team working on media and creative for Absolut in the US. MKG is their experiential agency. When we have meetings, they're in the room. That allows for unit decision-making, for the media and creative to flow fluidly and for a lot of shared consciousness. Everybody is on the same page at any given moment. It eliminates the emails, touch-bases and meetings that can get in the way.

How are you able to help clients transform internally to make room for modern marketing strategies?

We look at where we can help them affect change from the inside out. In some cases, it’s just straight-up education. We’ve developed a significant amount of curriculum. We help clients reimagine the foundational elements of their integrated marketing and communications process by looking at the processes and behaviors within their organization. Then they can figure out what kind of partners they want to work with.

Are you educating the CMO, or are you arming the CMO with tools to bring to the rest of the C-suite?

It’s all over the map. Sometimes it’s the most junior folks, sometimes it’s highly strategic, interdependent teams. How do you create processes that allow work to get into the market at the speed consumers demand, while protecting the interests of the organization? A big part of that is educating the legal department so they are familiar enough to make informed recommendations. We’re trying to be an organizational partner to our clients, not just a marketing partner.

Do you find that your clients are struggling to change the perception that marketing is just a cost center? 

Some are, but if you think about how many marketers are actually starting to do something about it, it’s really admirable.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 

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