Advertising and Marketing

  • David Blain, Saxton Horne
  • Bill Brady, EKR
  • Mike Chase, Chase Marketing
  • Brent Johnson, Holland & Hart, LLP
  • Haley McLennan, Intrepid
  • Andrew Melchior, Avalaunch Media
  • Jeff Olsen, ThomasARTS
  • Chuck Penna, Penna Powers
  • Pauline Ploquin, Struck
  • Brad Plothow, Method Communications
  • Ted Roxbury, CLEARLINK
  • Kelly Shelton, Boostability
  • Todd Wolfenbarger, The Summit Group Communications

A special thank you to Paul Dishman, chair of the marketing department at Utah Valley University, for moderating the discussion.

In an era of online reviews and mobile technology, consumers are more empowered than ever. This, combined with a strong demand for analytics and proof of ROI, is keeping Utah’s agencies working to stay at the cutting edge of technology, strategy and creativity.

What would you say was the biggest change that has taken place in our industry in the last 12 to 18 months?

WOLFENBARGER: In the last five to seven years, PR has completely changed. We spent a lot of time training to be journalists so we could run stuff through a gatekeeper and hope that we found interest. Now we spend as much time publishing as we do pitching stories. Content marketing has really dramatically changed the way public relations professionals work—you not only have to be a great writer, you have to be able to see things visually. You have to be able to tell a story visually, and you have to be able to edit.

What we’ve learned is you have to be curious. If you’re not curious, you’re not going to survive in this industry because it’s evolving. And that’s what makes it fun. It’s reinvented every year; it’s something different. If you’re curious, it feels like a toy box. And if you’re not, it feels like a dentist chair.

SHELTON: Google, search engines, are a game changer. It’s really how consumers find products and services now. The key in search is understanding intent—why someone is visiting a site or using their mobile device—and then matching your content around that intent, matching your experience around that intent. Search has changed the landscape for the better. Consumers are in charge. They’re empowered more than ever. So it’s not just about just selling, selling, selling. It’s about answering questions, it’s about providing resources.

ROXBURY: Over the last five to seven years there’s been an increasing amount of fragmentation within the marketplace, specifically digital, where consumers are shifting from search to social to apps to online/offline experiences. But over the last 12 to 18 months, we’re starting to see that fragmentation disappear from technology. We’re starting to see more integration across the consumer experience, regardless of device or platform or medium or engagement type. So, for example, you can interact with a customer on social, then on search, and then maybe through a call center or a store, and you can integrate all that data together and create one single experience.

MELCHIOR: Probably the biggest overall change is the lack of time the consumer is willing to give you to share your message. Where you used to have maybe minutes, now you have seconds. So you have to convey your message in a very quick format. That’s why visual content has become so prevalent. You have sites out there like Instagram and Pinterest that are really driving the market now, and that’s what we try to cater to for our clients.

BRADY: For me it’s the pervasiveness of mobile technology, the bandwidth that you get in mobile now and the ubiquity of devices. Half of adults in the states own tablets now. So it’s tablets and phones. Whereas it was once a big deal to have an experience that was responsive and cater to that, now it’s gone to a whole other level where people are expecting content that’s catered to exactly what they need in that moment. That’s a big opportunity for marketers.

CHASE: One of the biggest changes is the accountability that comes from digital. Digital forces us to be accountable to the client on one hand, but one of the great things you can do with that accountability is very seriously reach out and target a consumer much easier than you could, much more cost efficiently than you could. So you can still create your brand, on the one hand, but on the other hand be accountable to the client as well. One of the challenges of being accountable is if you haven’t done your homework. One of the good things about being accountable is if you have, you can make changes almost instantaneously.

PLOTHOW: In the last 12 to 18 months, the rate of change is increasing in such pronounced way. So the interval between the next wrenching change is getting smaller and smaller. You also have this proliferation of channels. We’ve talked about content marketing being this self-publishing platform for brands in addition to your traditional earned media and paid media channels.

The other thing that is really significant and changing rapidly is the expectation that started with Web 2.0 and now has really come to fruition of consumers and customers being participants in the brand and feeling like they have a stake in the company and what it means and what it delivers, whether or not they’re shareholders. So engagement with customers and the expectation of them being part and parcel of the conversation around what the brand means and its relevance is here.

BLAINE: When you go from a finely crafted 30-second spot to a six-second video, it has tons of implications in how you plan strategically, in what you surround that content with, in how you target that content. There’s just so many implications to that compression: compression of time, compression of content, compression of thinking. Everything happens so much faster. That’s probably driven an enormous amount of change n everything that we do.

OLSEN: Everything from custom content and the way that’s delivered now, the accountability, to how that’s measured—it’s everything I call the automated marketing platform. What hasn’t changed is you’ve still got to be interesting. You’ve still got to engage in a way that’s somebody says, “Oh, wow, I want to look at that,” whether it’s six seconds or 30 seconds or two seconds in a Instagram post. That’s where agencies can shine, that’s where our expertise comes to fruition, is being interesting and being engaging in a way that consumers resonate with and want to be a part of, regardless of how it’s measured or whether it’s on my tablet or mobile device or through word of mouth on social media.

PLOQUIN: Forester predicted we were ushering ourselves into the age of the customer, and that’s what we’re all talking about—the empowered customer and, indeed, all of the implications that means from the variety of devices that our customers are engaging with. What’s been interesting for us has been the rise of the user experience because of the age of the customer and how important that is to really understand what they are experiencing along the consumer path. And really intriguing as well is this move from eyeballs to experiences. It’s not just about a visual cue, it’s about that actual physical experience. We’re seeing brands move from just a digital experience to actual physical experiences, which is really unique and interesting. So what does this mean for an agency, what is our role? We see our role as to really help our brands make an emotional connection with consumers.

McLENNAN: All of our brands have so many additional touch points of people they’re trying to influence. What’s important and what we keep coming back to is that the messages that go through all of those channels need to be complementary and integrated, and they need to be right on brand strategy, and they need to come back to that home base of who you are, what you’re trying to do. That’s tricky, because if you’re doing things in silos, sometimes the message is not right or they’re not complementary. So it comes back to creating a foundational strategy, really understanding who your audience is, what they’re looking for, and how they want to get that information.

JOHNSON: As a lawyer, I monitor change in the advertising marketing industry based upon two metrics. First metric is the regulatory activity in that area. The second metric is the class action Lanham action, which is private actions against companies based upon the claims that they make. And in the last 18 months, there has been a dramatic increase in regulatory activity and litigation in two principle areas: e-commerce and functionality claims. When you only have six seconds to convey a message now, you tend to want to hit key words, and key words equal claims and claims are where the FTC gets involved and the lawsuits occur. So functionality claims of any kind, whether or not something is “green,” for example—the FTC has come up this year with green guidelines. If you’re going to make a claim that your product is recyclable or anything else that relates to the environment, you better know those guidelines because the FTC will come down on you.

This year Blue Buffalo settled a major Lanham case brought by Purina over their claim that their dog food did not contain byproducts, but also spun off a number of class actions by pet owners that Blue Buffalo also had to settle. The notion here is we’re now constricted in advertising to a very short time frame, we need to differentiate our product. Consumers are demanding functionality in their products more and more. And yet all of those factors create a perfect storm where if we’re not careful, we end up making claims that result in more trouble than they’re worth.

Are you having to adapt to other psychological or sociological changes that have affected your business?

ROXBURY: Consumers are shifting more and more toward third-party reviews of products and services. There’s an increased demand for consumers to get the official review or the official low-down on a brand or service before they buy it. So with that, we’ve decided to start building our own sites and content outside of the brands that help users makes a decision about which product or service or brand they should use.

McLENNAN: Just thinking about roles within a B2B environment, where you have different decision makers and technology has changed the way they do their job. Those lines are getting crossed, and people are taking on new roles and responsibilities and trying to stay relevant there. What are they looking for, how do you create an experience? That’s changing so much on the internal, business side. So keeping up with changes in decision makers’ roles and trying to figure out how to create content and reach audiences that cross over in terms of interests and agendas has been an interesting change.

PLOTHOW: We work with B2B clients, too. They are not as interested in having very transactional relationships with the companies they do business with. They want to believe in them, too. This has always been the case, but I think people are getting more tribal about this. They want to resonate not just to your value proposition and the speeds and feeds and how you stack up against competitors, but what do you stand for? What are the ideas that resonate with them? There’s an alignment that they’re looking for philosophically.

JOHNSON: I always like to be able to buy products that have been extensively reviewed. Nevertheless, there are questions as to how the review got to that site: Who wrote it? Was there any compensation associated with it? How did it get generated? And more and more we’re starting to see the beginnings of FTC regulation and litigation associated with online reviews. People claiming they were misled into believing a product had benefits or values that it didn’t have based upon reviews that were not “legitimate,” however you want to define that. So obviously reviews are very important because they’re a subject of litigation and also the subject of regulation.

WOLFENBARGER: I have a 21-year-old daughter who buys stuff online and she always looks at reviews. I said to her, “Do you know where those coming from?” She said, “No, but I know that they don’t work for the company.” That to her was a big deal. I think it’s because she views the people who are on the site as being helpful versus selling to her. That’s what marketers have got to get their head around. They have to trust that being helpful is really the way things are sold, not by hammering on people. My daughter will find somebody she doesn’t know who she thinks is helpful over a company that probably knows 10 times more about their product and why she really should be interested.

MELCHIOR: Consumers care more about brand ambassadors than what the CMOs say all day long.

CHASE: Which is interesting because we have a client in San Diego who has discovered that a lot of the negative reviews that they are getting right now are from their competitor. People that have been hired within the competitor.

JOHNSON: To show how prevalent is it, there’s a bill in the U.S. Senate to prevent companies from having anti-negative clauses in their contracts. So, for instance, the most famous case right now is around a company that rents people’s homes out for them in resort communities. And the individuals themselves would enter into a contract with the lessee, which would say you can’t post a negative review on this website regarding the property, and they’ll still get a negative review posted. There have actually been lawsuits over that. The U.S. Senate has viewed this as a significant enough impediment on free speech that there’s a bill that will prevent people from entering into those kinds of contracts or asking for them.

ROXBURY: I think Amazon is doing a very good job with their verified purchase. So basically they’re letting anybody review, but they’re saying this person actually bought this product. That’s a good first step to gain that consumer trust.

How are you positioning your company to meet the challenges of the next two years?

BLAINE: In preparing for the future there are three things we’re looking at: data, data, and data. When I got into this business, it was really the art of marketing and it’s really become the science of marketing, of understanding behavior in predictive analytics and being able to look at what’s happening and then plug that back in and respond to that. So using data to make decisions to craft messages, to reach audiences.

PLOTHOW: I’m on the agency side, so what I look at is a lot of consolidation. You’ve seen a ton of proliferation of the advertising shops, the PR shops. It used to be those were your choices. Now you have this entire integrated marketing, digital marketing middle ground. You have analytics to prove the value and merchandise the results of those kinds of activities. And all of these things have been fertile ground for startups and for companies to grow businesses. They need to coexist, though, in a more integrative way. We’re seeing that clients increasingly do want a central strategy.

And then you think about all of these paid earned and owned channels as channels for delivery of message and engagement of clients, and it makes a lot more sense to have those things integrated from the start, including the analytics, and doing the research on the front end to inform your hypothesis that it doesn’t have these things living disparately. So I think a lot of consolidation is in our future.

OLSEN: We’re taking a big step into becoming more strategic partners of these big companies. What they’re really looking for is the expertise and strategy in creative execution, because the implementation is becoming table stakes. Everybody is going to become content generators, everybody is going to become distributors in a way. And so our next big step is to really become the trusted strategic partner, where we can sit at the sea level and say, “based on what we see, all the analytics, all the information, here’s the key insights, here’s the key consumer behaviors that indicate where we can go, where the messaging is going to get to, and what’s going to resonate and connect emotionally with these consumers that are your audience.”

CHASE: One of the challenges our long-time clients are going through is they want to be part of the new digital media, not just the traditional. But some of the traditional has been very successful for them. They’re trying to figure out where do we go next? One of the things they’re asking us to figure out is how do we not become diluted in our budgets, because now there’s so many places that we can go. Are we going to dilute our message? Are we going to dilute our presentation to a customer? So what we’re doing more and more, even with the traditional media, is we’re trying to be as accountable as we can to the dollar because they will spend the money if they can track the return on that investment.

PENNA: Just attended a conference on digital strategy. And a CMO said the thing they used to tell agencies is speed, quality, price. You get two. And now we all want faster, cheaper, faster. So if agencies can’t deliver that, they’re not going to be around. That goes back to agencies becoming content factories. Clients expect agencies to move fast.

DISHMAN: As you’re having to create more content marketing, do your costs go up?

PENNA: It’s a challenge, it really is. Agencies have had to become production companies. We used to farm all of that out. Clients want you to have all those tools so that you can put the right package together. If you’re missing a key component, that’s a concern to a client now. Why wouldn’t you recommend that? Well, because we don’t have it. It’s really important to be that integrated communications company always ahead of technology.

BRADY: As we’re preparing for the future, our next big hires will be marketing information officer people—people that have the mindset of a CMO but the technical ability of a CIO. And people that can take the great work that we do in targeting, positioning and messaging and go deeper than we’ve ever gone before in analytics and automation and really tracking content to every user and showing the ROI from that.

How are you providing proof of ROI to your clients and potential clients? Are you using different techniques than you used a few years ago?    

ROXBURY: For us it’s easy. We bill our clients on an acquisition model. So every time we get with a customer they pay us a commission. So it’s black or white.

DISHMAN: What about customer retention?

ROXBURY: That’s what we’re working on—layering in the customer support, customer care, technical support side of things, having some type of incentive for a long-term retention. Again, our model there is performance based. It’s about how long that customer stays. It’s a fee per year if the customer stays with our client.

BRADY: For clients that have the interest and the budget, we do brand awareness, name recognition, favorability studies. Most clients would say they like that information but aren’t willing to pay for it. Anything that’s digital, that’s been the biggest boon to marketers—the shift to a digital-first approach where things are much more trackable and we can show immediate cause and effect. We’re not like Clearlink, we’re not performance based on everything. But when it makes sense, we do have performance-based accounts where this acquisition, this sale equals dollars to us and that’s how we get paid.

PLOTHOW: We’re at the finesse end of the marketing umbrella, where we’re really integrated into the story-telling aspects of the brand. So it is an elusive thing for us. There’s no silver bullet in terms of how we demonstrate the value and track the return on investment. But the biggest thing we’ve seen in PR in particular (integrated marketing is a little different), is the share of voice. So we’ll cut up the conversation into a pie, show a client what they have currently, and track over time how it’s growing. People want to know how much of a conversation they’re owning.

McLENNAN: From our point of view, we’re divided fairly evenly in two buckets. Brand awareness—we do a lot research around that. So focus groups, surveys, going back to talking to customers—we’re engaging in more traditional primary research to ensure that the platforms and messages we’re putting together are on point immediately and will be pertinent in the future. And on the digital end, we’re looking at traditional metrics for all things website-related, email, automation, social, etc.

PENNA: We always sit down with a new client and say: How do you measure success? What’s the metric we want to create together? That has changed over years, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is ROI. Do they feel like they’re getting value of what they’re investing?

BLAINE: If I’m running a search campaign, it’s pretty easy to see what I’m getting. My cost per click is pretty easy to measure. But what about the behavior after that? What about the shopping cart that goes all the way to a sale? You can measure everything along that continuum. And you can get caught up in measurement for measurement’s sake too. Really, I think Chuck said it well: What does the client want? What does success look like to the client, and are we working with them to achieve what they want? Are we moving the needle for their business?

WOLFENBARGER: If you have clients who understand how they sell, and they’re measuring on how they sell, that helps us a lot. We do a lot of work for T Mobile retail stores all over the country and our assignment is pretty basic: get people into their stores. They actually have door counts, and we get those reports daily. They have their own closing percentages around that. Once you’re in, we’re kind of done.

Marketing today is about thought leadership. That’s what really great people who specialize in public relations have come to understand. If we can help convince people of what they instinctively know, that being helped in their decision-making feels right and being trusted feels right. That’s where that finesse part of the marketing spectrum comes into play, and it helps it get to the ultimate empirical thing—if you can deliver a customer back to somebody. We’re going to have to play in all that, because it is about accountability right now. People will pay for really great marketers, and they will spit out the ones that say, “Hey, we think we’re really helping out.” Doesn’t work anymore.

OLSEN: We have a very astute internal analytics department, a whole department dedicated to providing dashboards, typically on a weekly basis, but sometimes on a daily basis. The value we add beyond just the reporting and analytics is giving insights on what it means, what is the experience? What are the key measurables? Doing that in a holistic way becomes very important.

We had a client on the West Coast, and they were doing everything. It was a total integrated campaign, including traditional direct-response television. And yet what they were finding was nobody was responding to the direct-response television. But on the other end, their sales were doing fantastic. They dropped the DRTV and all the sudden the sales dropped down. What was actually happening is every time the direct response TV traditional media was running, their organic Google search would go through the roof, and nobody had put those pieces together until we took a holistic approach.

But the bottom line is sales. If we’re not moving product or moving traffic, whatever the key measurable fact is, then the marketing is not working and it has to be accountable. But not just the analytics—the key insights to what the analytics means are what become very valuable.

MELCHIOR: Attribution is a really tricky thing in today’s marketing universe. Often if there are two things we’re doing, we don’t know which one is working. It’s so complex. You can track those users from start to finish. But you don’t know if they first found out about you from a radio ad or a billboard or a TV commercial or friend referring them or they read a review online. Your consumer can hit your site, they can visit your Facebook page or Twitter profile, read reviews, fill out a form, talk to a salesperson, then hit a paper click ad and buy. And if you’re focused on that last click conversion, then your paper click campaign is what worked. But really, there’s a much bigger story that’s being told there. And so you need to spend time focusing on understanding that attribution, and then putting those dollars where you see the conversions coming from.

SHELTON: We service primarily small businesses. We have analytics that show traffic and last click attribution and rankings and likes and followers and all those metrics that demonstrate, yes, the service is getting you in front of people. We have our clients ask the person that called: Did you see us on Facebook? How did you find us? How did you hear about us? As simple as that is, it became the most powerful demonstration of ROI. We could show your traffic gone through roof. You’re now ranking one for five different terms. And when the business owner actually started asking the customer: How did you hear about us? Where did you see us? You see me on Google? That then translated to the business owner—this is working, I’m getting clients from this.

If a business is thinking about hiring an ad agency, PR agency, digital agency or an integrated agency, what would be the most significant question they should ask of that service provider?    

McLENNAN: My single most important question would be “where do I start.” If you can come up with somebody who can start to put you in the right place to move forward, then great. But you’re going to get a reaction from people that’s going to be telling about how they treat your brand and how they think you should move forward.

BRADY: I would take it a step further and ask for quantifiable examples showing you’ve helped people like me before. I want to know as a potential buyer that you’ve produced results and can give me a high level of trust that you can produce the results.

CHASE: Could you show me how you understand my business now and what you think you can do to make a difference for my business?

BLAINE: Demonstrate your knowledge of my business. Because the more knowledge you have of your client’s business, the better understanding you have of what makes their business work, the more successful they’re going to be in working with you.

PLOQUIN: Who are the people who are going to work on my business and do I like them? Do we want to get along?

PLOTHOW: They should ask “what should I do.” And then they should see if I give them a prescription right off the bat or if I ask questions of them. Because absent you having some prior conversation with them, the answer to that question varies so much depending on what they’re trying to accomplish and the moment in their life cycle for the company. There has to be fact-finding before you can answer that question.

MELCHIOR: Ask the agency to show three cultural elements of the agency that are going to help them as a business owner accomplish their goals. And I would want to know that the agency is extremely loyal and that they’re willing to fight to help that business owner win.

WOLFENBARGER: know where I would go deep on: It would absolutely be about the people. I would say: Can you articulate to me what you hire for and what you fire for? Can I tell you five things we look for. If you’re three of the five, you’ll probably be able to hang; four of the five you’ll do well; five you’re a star. If you’re two, you’ll either spit us or we’ll spit you out.

Every time I interview somebody to come work for us or every single time we’re in a pitch, I tell them what we hire for and what we fire for. Because it’s the combination of the skill set, the expertise, the cultural elements of the agency, and just the chemistry that comes from that fit. I never promise somebody you’re going to get the same people all the time. If you all know how to keep 28-year-old people from leaving jobs every 15 minutes, I’d be interested in that, but I don’t know how to do that. So what I tell people is we know what we hire for and we know what we fire for.

ROXBURY: What happens if it doesn’t work? If we enter into this agreement and my volume or my sales go down, what happens? How would I mitigate my risk of working with you or working with an agency?

OLSEN: Show me how you create a powerful emotional connection to consumers. And they better start asking questions about those consumers before they say, “Oh, here’s how we do it.”

JOHNSON: It wouldn’t be my first question, but somewhere in there I would ask: Do you promise that you always give it to me straight? Companies that bring products or services to market are excited about them. There’s a reason they did it, there’s a benefit, there’s something that’s really important that they’re very proud of. And yet at times a company needs somebody to tell them, “that pitch, that concept isn’t really going to do much for your bottom line.” And the question is: Does it expose you to risk? How much is that claim worth? And I wonder whether or not advertisers are willing to give it to clients straight. When they hear something and they think to themselves, that’s not really going to sell and it’s kind of dangerous if the advertising company is willing to say it. If they’re not, then they don’t really do the customer much good.