Every year, WPP Group's GroupM unit brings together members of all of its agencies to trade notes, listen to experts and hear the "state of" GroupM.
This year, the NYC-based event titled "What's Next" closed with a Q&A between media moguls Rob Norman, CEO of GroupM North America, and Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of GroupM Worldwide. They were in good form and provided the sort of easy, entertaining banter that one might see in a late night TV talk show - but, the opinions were cutting. The Rat Pack surely would have approved.
Phil Cowdell, Chairman for GroupM agency Mindshare in North America, played moderator, referee and foil.
Cowdell cut to the heart of the matter and asked at the top, "What is next?"
Gotlieb saw two overarching themes. The first dealt with the infrastructure and organization of the agency as it adapts its role as agent of the client. He said:
"Going forward we have a really huge challenge, because on the one hand you have to join data streams across all those specialties [video, mobile, display, etc.] to get a whole picture of the situation. At the same time I've always been one to believe in the notion that if you focus too much on integration and don't develop specialists - specialists are critical in this arena.
So how do we bring those elements closer without losing the specialty components in the development? That's number one. I think that's probably the overarching thing. It's huge."
And this is driven by a client mindset today which is still looking for specialist agencies to facilitate their social or mobile or TV or CRM strategy. So, in spite of the fact it would make sense for clients to look at how each channel is working together, the client thinks in silos. Data will help bring that together as will better analytics to provide the Marketer a Holy Grail: the cross-channel dashboard of "How is my marketing doing?" Within the agency of the future, continued siloing seems to make sense as a deeper understanding of advertising verticals mines better performance for the client and gets bubbled up through "the dashboard agency," if you will, who brings it all together.
Ohhhh.. "the dashboard agency" - write it down!!
Back to the show...
Next, Gotlieb unleashed his years of media wisdom on the big digital ad players of today as he continued with his second thought on "What's next?" and uttered the media world equivalent of "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, the bell tolls for thee.":
"The second element deals with the fact that if you sit at any point on the time continuum. I mean - if we were having this meeting in 1992, the shiny new object would have been CompuServe. How many people under 25 years old have ever heard of CompuServe? '95 it would have been Prodigy. '98 it would have been AOL. '01 it would have been Jeeves. Is there a pattern here?
So, let's not be too smug about knowing that Facebook and Google are the two giants out there. I don't know when, but I guarantee you one thing. They, too, will go away from focus in due course.
Eric Schmidt dismissed Microsoft. That's a known factor in the future. If it can happen to Microsoft, it can happen to anyone. So we need to be ever watchful for the next shiny object - the next impactful, shiny objects. There are always dozens and dozens of shiny objects out there that have no real relevance, except perhaps on Wall Street, who likes to monetize paper."
Tell me what you're really thinking!
Taking it a step further, Apple, Facebook and Google obviously are or will look to go to the marketer direct and automate inefficient agency processes. Gotlieb thinks innovations will push them all aside in the future. His viewpoint on the specialist is relevant here - where the agent/specialist can keep themselves from conflicts of interest such as owning media and pushing their own company's tech and provide real value on strategy for the client.
On the other hand, Google and Facebook can increasingly offer some really sweet deals in terms of across the marketing stack and up and down the purchase funnel. Is it different - this new generation of shiny new objects? And, as tech becomes more complex, the specialist needs to keep up with the sales engineers competing with them on the other side (Google, Facebook, Apple etal.).
One more, side note: shiny new objects can return - witness Apple. Is Microsoft a possible shiny new object of the future? They certainly have tons of cash to do it.
Next - and speaking to the shiny new object theme - Cowdell turned the spotlight to Rob Norman and asked about what happens when all the cool kids decide Facebook is no longer cool similar to what happened with MySpace. Norman began with his thoughts on Myspace (Myspace owner Specific Media, take note?):
"What's happened to MySpace is kind of tragic, but not for the reason you might expect. I think that MySpace had such a terrific strength, particularly in the African American and Hispanic communities. It provided a real service of terrific value to those people. I think that there was an opportunity, in which the News Corporation in their infinite wisdom really had an opportunity to do -which was to work with minorities, and minority stakeholders and owners of content, to really re-energize [Myspace] as a content platform and a social platform of choice for particularly the Hispanic and African American communities in this country."
And then, Norman offered his view on what "everyone" thinks of Facebook, Apple and Google.
"I think that when we look at the three big guys now - everyone thinks of Facebook, Apple and Google as the alpha dogs of the game and the less generous competitors as the Apple's of the business - they're creating the premium devices and collecting tolls on the distribution of premium content. That would be their view of Apple, going forward.
They would think that Google is trying to create a monopoly of search, obviously, and of the collection and application of data that creates the greatest and most efficient connection between consumers and transactions. They would think that Facebook was trying to create a monopoly of social behavior and to build the inference of social intent as an alternative model to the Google model of actual intent.
Fortunately, I'm a far more generous person than any of those people who have described it. But I think this is interesting from an advertising point-of-view about how you engage with each of those companies."
For Norman, get ready to use data if you want to engage with Facebook, Google and Apple and create differentiation for advertisers. Referencing an earlier presentation he began, "advertisers now have brand owners. That's the thing." And then, he dove in:
"It's not just about the physical and emotional nature of products, not only about the communication assets that they want to deliver to the market to make them relevant. There's all of the data that can be appended to what they do, and all of the content that they create around it.
What's pretty clear from everything we're hearing is that the balance between the delivery of communication and the discovery of communication is in a place that we haven't seen before and that, over time, making brands and brand attributes discoverable - really at an atomizable level - it's really important.
He then used an example with Macy's showing the potential power of data which could help create campaigns "discoverable by a niche audience, to whom that matters enormously." And then concluded:
"I think that one of the things we need to do all together is to create a broad view of what content we need to create and what data we need to attach to the brands that we work with, in order to live in the ecosystems created by three companies I mentioned (Apple, Google, Facebook)."
By John Ebbert