Confessions from an Agency Vet
I guess you could call me a traitor.
I spent more than fifteen years living the good life at creative agencies. I spent the last two of those years as Head of Talent, attempting to stem the flow of people who were leaving the agency world to go work for tech platforms, media companies, and content studios.
And then what did I do? I left the agency world to go work for Vox Media - a place that is part tech platform, part media company and part content studio.
As I gear up for an Advertising Week panel (plug!), I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned since. Here goes...
Throughout my time at agencies, I was lucky to have worked for and with some of the most sophisticated thinkers in the industry. I witnessed them give birth to ideas that gave birth to entire brands. We fought hard for those ideas. Sometimes that required months securing the approvals and the funding and the media required to run a 30 second TV spot. Sometimes it required dozens of meetings with partner agencies, tirelessly aligning our individual specialities into one super-team that could deliver a cohesive campaign.
I loved what I did because what great agencies do is an art form. An art form that will never die. Because demand for great big marketing ideas will never be fully met, no matter how much content “supply” there may be.
But I had a nagging feeling that things could be different. That the world of brands and commerce was moving faster than we were. That consumers were moving through our big ideas at speeds greater than we were able to generate them. I knew that it actually shouldn’t require six different agencies and six months to execute an ad campaign that would last six weeks. I knew that "digital" is not just a channel on a plan or an agency on a roster.
But I conformed to that system anyway.
Our problem was not a lack of creativity. Our problem was that our obsession with creativity - and the number of people and entities and stakeholders and focus groups and time involved in that creative process - was becoming a distraction from the emerging imperatives of speed, performance and scale. Repeatability was the enemy of originality. Content volume and content quality were mutually exclusive choices.
“Good, fast, or cheap. Pick any two.” I actually said that to my clients. Frequently.
Some would say that model is broken, and agencies have been taking many incremental steps to evolve. Some have made more progress than others. Many of them, and the holding companies above them, are recognising that the convergence of capabilities into smaller teams, fewer agencies, and smaller networks is the surest way to guarantee creativity and performance at scale.
It was all of this contemplation about convergence that indirectly led to me to this brand new world of Vox Creative, where content and audience and technology converge at a speed and scale unlike I’ve ever known. Where in nine months I’ve touched more content for more clients than I may have in the past five years.
A few months after I arrived, we partnered with Spotify to create a video in Vox’s popular Explainer format.
One person on our team researched the story, wrote the script, supervised the design and performed the VO. He did that in four weeks. He didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel. Instead he looked to our many previous Explainers that have generated hundreds of millions of views, and a handful of Emmy nominations, and he replicated their storytelling techniques. He knew those techniques would be successful because he had data to prove it. He accessed that data through a platform we had built, upon which all of the company’s content is published. His colleague who sits next to him published that video across multiple brands and platforms with the click of a button. We did it in a handful of weeks and spent a fraction of agency costs to do it all.
And you know what? It’s a damn good video.
Three months later, we are replicating the success of that video for ten other clients. Explainers are so popular that we will soon have a dedicated team that will focus exclusively on the format. We'll distribute them at speed and scale because we built the only publisher-led marketplace for branded content distribution which can reach 99% of every millennial online (don't ask me where the hell the other 1% are hiding).
But for all that convergence has enabled us to achieve on our own, what remain and will always remain indispensable are creative agencies’ big ideas. The future will always hold a place for the very best agencies that are shaping the next generation of brands. And right there alongside them will be the Vox Medias of the world - who will fuse data, creativity, audience, and performance in near real time.
So if finding convergence makes me a traitor, then to my agency friends I say: chain your destiny to ours.
Let’s betray the old way of doing things. Let’s bring your big ideas to life. Let’s surround curious people with valuable stories and experiences. Let’s just do it smarter, faster, and, ultimately, together.
Armando Turco is General Manager, Vox Creative