I heard somewhere that SXSW is the opposite of Las Vegas in that what happens in Austin doesn’t (always) stay in Austin. We attended the conference earlier this month and the speakers, content, city and food truly lived up to their reputation.
There were a variety of keynotes, sessions and panels, mostly industry-focused, but a few that were a bit broader. We heard from the man who hiked Everest without supplemental oxygen and a biologist on the forefront of CRISPR technology. Totally relatable.
Along with some new friends and a new appreciation for tacos, here’s a bit of what we learned while we were there:
1. Invest in the aggregate and individual success of your clients
Brands are now demanding that agencies act as true business consultants, not simply as sellers of creative ideas and limitless production budgets. If our role is to be dedicated to helping our clients do their job well—and their performance is being measured in company revenue and market share—we should insist on having a seat at the table when long-term objectives and sales targets are discussed.
This shift will challenge our strategy teams to hold our account, creative and media departments accountable for campaign ideas and creative and media plans that will drive the business forward.
2. Understand the business
In one of the panels, we heard from the Chief Marketing Officer of a large beverage company who spoke candidly about his reasons for firing his last creative agency. Not surprisingly, the majority of people who purchase beverages for a household are women—but the creative team assigned to the business was all men.
This is a micro-example of a much larger issue: agencies are not dedicating the time or resources to truly learn their clients’ businesses. Brands are requiring their partners to get their hands dirty and venture outside the walls of their modern, swanky offices to visit their stores and interact with their customers face-to-face. Gone are the days of hiding behind pages of quantitative customer research and clever taglines.
3. Decide what you’re good at as an agency (and as an individual) and focus on it
One of our favorite keynotes was given by 25-year-old entrepreneur Brian Wong, the co-founder of Kiip, a mobile app rewards platform that lets brands give real-world rewards for in-app achievements. (For example, finishing a run on your C25K app and being rewarded with a coupon for Gatorade.)
He spoke about finding your “superpower” by remembering what you were drawn to as a child and focusing on doing more of what you are good at, rather than what you are just capable of doing. Develop your strengths and manage your weaknesses. He also talked about finding people with complementary superpowers and pursuing those relationships both personally and professionally. When superpowers overlap, it can create conflict and friction.
The same principal applies for agencies. Too often we hide behind the “fully integrated” agency model to try to be all things to all brands. We’re traditional and digital, media and brand planning, creative and development. Pick a card, any card. But brands are moving away from the generalist agency-of-record model and pursuing agencies that are experts in their specific disciplines.
These shifts in the agency-brand relationship should be encouraging. They are requiring us to become creative problems solvers who are focused on results, rather than catchy headlines and sexy media campaigns. We now have even more of an opportunity to partner with our clients and truly make an impact for them and their business—and isn’t that why we wanted to be marketers in the first place?