We had the honor of speaking with Justin Thomas-Copeland, one of the world’s leading marketers. His conception of data-driven creativity is the latest frontier in the industry. In his role as President and CEO of DDB USA, he is the ideal person to help articulate ideas, information, accuracy and an effective solution for the client. With over 25 years of experience he has had a lot to say about the importance of technology, A.I. driven software and the true importance of co-creating value with the client.
Why is it vital for a company to seek creativity from an agency?
You have to give the client something valuable – something they cannot replicate through their own means. It is not unusual for a brand to question the need to hire an agency, an external agent, in a complex monetary context. And it is not a question that should be dismissed without reflection. So: What value does my business add to the board? The director stresses the importance of knowing and conceptualizing the service the agency offers, and more importantly, being able to communicate it to the client.
They have to know why they are going to the agency, what is that value, that service, that they need from you. When you can express what that commodity is, it is rare that a client won’t want to pay for the value you add to their business. The complexity arises when it comes to not being able to demonstrate the differential work that one offers. And what is really interesting is to build a new way, between brand and agency, with a rhythm in which both parties complement each other.
A large-scale mistake is to stop positioning the services offered as valuable and to expose them as if they were a simple commercial good. “We talk to clients about price instead of value,” adds the director. There is a lack of dedication to understanding and being clear about what is being offered. Faced with this lack of self-understanding, a client may question: “Do we need to have this service provided by an external agent, can we replicate it on our own, do we need a partner?
The complexity of talent in the industry context
“You have to have a strong culture; a culture of curiosity,” Justin remarks. It’s important to be able to demonstrate to the client that the people they will be working with, the people who will be responsible for their business, are proactive people who are constantly looking for solutions for their brand. That comes down to a good culture and having strong leaders, that makes the difference when it comes to selecting an advertising partner, and this is where agencies need to be able to invest their efforts. “They don’t see your logo, they don’t see the corporate credit, they see the person in front of them and they judge whether they will be able to if that person has the right appetite for your business” adds the creative.
Talent has to be able to walk their brand-side counterpart through the process of going in front of a board and articulating why that project is the right one. It’s no longer just about ideas, a concept has to be backed up by accounting knowledge, a longitudinal understanding of the project, and an accurate idea of how that particular project does, or does not, deliver value to your client.
The importance of upgrading services
Companies are not just asking for advertising spots, but they are changing the way they see an agency, asking them to take on a consulting-like role, a partner that is really involved in the strategy and business plan. Thomas-Copeland at DDB has had the experience of having clients consult the agency on how to conquer a certain segment, how to launch a new commercial proposition, analyze their supply chain and add that to their marketing. You need to go further than the marketing department in its pure state to be able to look at investment and advertising campaign strategies, and apply them in a cross-cutting way throughout the company. “We’re invited to take our thinking further, and it’s up to us to accept that challenge,” adds Justin.
And although an agency is not a consulting firm, since its value is born from creativity and the world of ideas, its leaders and senior staff must take a more involved role in the client’s demand. A demand that goes beyond an advertising order and becomes intertwined with the management issue. This request has a different form, unique to the world of advertising, client and agency co-create that value for the brands in a joint work. For this to happen, there must be a predisposition on the part of the client and an active role on the part of the agency, to know what will be commercially better for the brand.
For the expert, this lies in the very human condition: the one who is trusted is consulted, and upon reaching a state of partnership with the client, he shares doubts that are not only found within advertising and marketing,but are transferred from the core of the business issue.
Creativity in the information network
All communications companies have used data and management precision in one way or another, more or less systematically. From DDB Justin explains that they do not sell data, but “We are in the business of applying data, specifically in the business of creating a creative breakthrough and developing business with that information”. He says that all their creatives and relevant staff are being trained in the importance of reading data, which has opened up new creative avenues throughout the agency.
This has been a great thrill for them, not only because of the new opportunities it opens up for the creative department, but also because it gives a substantial new level of depth, with a new angle of appreciation for the ideas, which adds more reliability to the creative work. The use of data transforms a project meeting into an opportunity to further work on ideas and add new nuances of value for the client. It’s a refreshing angle for working with clients, it’s a different approach, explains Justin: “We’re happy to use this meeting as a working session. To show that we have this opportunity, so now let’s work together to do something amazing.”
It is not risky to say that the pandemic has affected the world and has changed our consumption habits and ways of communicating. The director assures that in this half-changed board a new type of interaction with brands is sought, with a new focus on participation, on the part of the consumer and on the part of the companies that offer their services. It is an invitation to analyze in new ways the data obtained and use them in an era of creativity driven by information, that is the new frontier of A.I. in the world of advertising and marketing.
The intelligence-powered agency
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, data obtained from platforms and social networks make up a range of precious and necessary information. Agencies have always used cutting-edge technology, and this technology already plays a role in the work of an advertising agency. Just as it is unthinkable to work in a company without any kind of management tool, it is also unthinkable to manage projects without the benefits provided by new software with artificial intelligence.
Internal automation and software learning through mundane and commonplace tasks, such as logging hours, control logs or profitability reports, is a great tool, a necessary resource to be able to develop in the best way. For Thomas-Copeland, it can be a large-scale change: “As an industry, it’s an opportunity to look at internal data, with automation and artificial intelligence, and think about how we operate.
Not only are agencies using the new technological possibilities, but some clients are also incorporating software that allows for a deeper and richer discussion with their advertising partners, which also implies that new levels of transparency and accountability are expected. This is the new face of intelligent software; not only are they a driver for efficiency, but they also achieve new formats of dialogue that were previously unthinkable.
The new frontier of transparency and communication
The expert imagines an industry standard, in which the same systems could be used and a unified style of information provided to clients. Thus the valid and reasonable questions about how tasks work, how they are priced, how long they take, etc., would be asked. If clients had access to that level of transparency, it would leave a lot of room to express the value the agency provides to the client.
So every time a brand engages in communication with advertising executives, the attention that could be devoted to the project itself, and to the operational merit of the advertising work, is diverted. It is to be expected that there is a desire to understand the cost of the price to be paid, the industry must be able to face this with peace of mind and increasing transparency. As well as being able to understand: what the company values and what that particular agency values, because they can be different objects, “What is the impact of this for your business? Let me understand a little bit more, so I can understand how my value system and profitability fits with your business,” Justin exemplifies.
A step in this direction is to allow the client to see the path to the solutions, which not only allows for a fluid dialogue and a better understanding of the work done, but can also reduce rework, a major waste of resources for agencies. “We have your best interest at heart, because to be frank, if you don’t win we don’t win!” the director concludes.
Restructuring the agency’s place with the client
The main point for an agency to achieve a better positioning lies in the value with which it defines its profitability and services. In addition, it is necessary to adapt to the real world and not to the world that is 10 years behind. The internal marketing and advertising teams of each company can be very effective. There is no point in thinking that all in-house teams are mediocre, that would be a failure of hubris on the part of the industry, as they are being equipped with great talent and have an accurate understanding of the company’s objectives. A marketing director today also shares his or her executive attention with sales objectives and what is in process within product development.
“We need to reinvent our value in these areas, make it broader,” reflects Justin. It’s tempting to take on internal teams, but the solution is simpler within an understanding of how you can work better together. What is the value you have as an agency that should be sought outside the company? “You have to share innovations, open up processes, be open to the client, and understand what value means to each other” the director issues as maxims.