Lessons from AdForum: a dramatic cacophony of chaos in the market

Will Hamilton
Will Hamilton

Will Hamilton, of Hamilton Associates, reports from last week's AdForum Worldwide Summit in New York.

Last week was the busiest week of the year for agency search intermediaries and pitch management consultants. Thirty of the leading consultants gathered in New York to meet with advertising industry leaders, holding companies, independents, brand-tech, media champions, entrepreneurs, and digital pioneers.

Representing the UK, were AAR, Hamilton Associates, ISBA, Observatory International, Oystercatchers, and Tina Fegent Consulting,

Waiting to receive the attendees in uptown and downtown New York and Brooklyn offices, (including one venue on the 84th floor of the new Freedom Tower) were 23 leadership teams with inspiring creative case studies and ground breaking presentations, which included a meeting update from newly appointed WPP joint chief operating officer Mark Read, and Lindsay Pattison, the WPP chief transformation officer.

This years’ participating agencies included: Crispin Porter & Bogusky, DDB Worldwide, Dentsu Aegis Network, Escape Pod, Fly Communications, Grey Worldwide, Havas, IBM Ix, Kiip, MDC, Mullen Lowe Group, Oath, Phenomenon, Project Worldwide, R/GA, Service Plan, SS&K, TBWA Collective, The Media Kitchen, Vice Virtue, Work & Co, WPP, and You & Mr Jones.

Eight recurring themes emerged during the week: 

  1. Top-line growth for heritage agencies is increasingly hard to achieve in what was described as "a dramatic cacophony of chaos in the advertising market". Some agencies are rapidly transforming, some are already well set up to drive growth – it’s fast changing and a complex market.
  2. A feeling for some that the holding company model is broken. Agencies are reviewing the latest round of changes and looking to see what model is best fit for purpose, putting data and technology at the heart of the business. In-housing is a trend that continues.
  3. Agility and flexible working, and/or partnering with clients is fast becoming the norm. New brand platforms at speed are possible, particularly when working with the bigger consultancies, clients seem willing to pay a premium if agencies/consultancies move fast.
  4. Agencies are beginning to present a fiscal edge that focuses the organisation and communications ecosystem towards share price, as well as planning, creativity and effectiveness.
  5. There are two distinct economies – legacy brands that compete with disruptive innovators. Companies that predate the digital revolution and companies that now have asymmetrical competitors, for example Amazon competes with Walmart.
  6. Voice-led communications will have more prominence. Mobile first campaigns have accelerated this year, but voice is becoming prominent. Be warned, by 2020 50% of all searches on the internet will be voice-led.
  7. Google and Facebook’s dominance is unwavering – despite privacy issues – a statistic we were presented showed that Google and Facebook account for 99% of all advertising growth. Amazon in many sectors is transforming the retail experience.
  8. The advertising industry is declining, digital spend is transforming the industry. Perhaps, creativity will be the last legal means of differentiation.


A very strong presentation by DDB global chief executive Wendy Clark, sharing outstanding creative work from McDonald’s, (International Women’s Day), Marmite, Skittles, and John Lewis.

A very diverse and brilliantly well presented session by TBWA Collective with a dynamic all female line-up. It’s been three-and-a-half years since global chief executive Troy Ruhanen took over and the achievements are significant. He has particularly focused on getting the gender balance right, highlighting that, when he took over, only three of the 35 country chief executives were women. Since then, the number of female chief executives is up by 15%, female chief strategy officers by 28%, and female creative directors up by 29%. And, to prove the point, fantastic creative work for Amazon Alexa and Hostelworld, was presented so elegantly by London hero Helen Calcraft.

It was significant and impressive that the newly appointed joint chief operating officer of WPP Mark Read came to New York to talk to the consultants, with an update on the recent changes at WPP on day eight of his new role, along with chief transformation officer Lindsay Pattison. Our view is that WPP is trying to be much more open. It’s "BAU at WPP - with a fresh flair". It is listening hard and ensuring they absolutely flex to its clients changing needs.  

And finally, again a seminal presentation by R/GA, which has reinvented themselves five times every nine years – it knows how to disrupt itself. Its strategic presentation, ability and presence rates them truly world-class – a 10/10 from me.

For the intermediaries and consultants it’s a week of intense meetings with leadership teams – but we return, with a desire to see – how can we assist in building top-line growth for both our clients and agencies alike. 

Finally – an interesting statistic presented – we touch our mobile phones on average of 2,617 times a day. Is it time to call your intermediary/pitch management consultant for some timely and groundbreaking advice?

Will Hamilton is managing partner of Hamilton Associates International

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