A week in the life of AdForum 2014

Peter Cowie
Peter Cowie

The co-founder of the British marketing firm Oystercatchers says the recently concluded AdForum Summit was all about content creation and distribution, technology, "maker" culture, and results

Fresh off the plane from New York, I’ve just spent a week with our American colleague Russel Wohlwerth at one of the more interesting events on adland’s annual calendar: the 14th AdForum Summit.

Leading pitch intermediaries (or search consultants, if you like) from across the world met 30-plus super-smart and charming U.S. and global agencies for a glimpse at their predictions for the future of marketing.

Some delightfully refer to the AdForum Summit as the ad industry’s version of the fashion catwalk. It could well be. Intermediaries review new directions that agencies are taking, and observe firsthand who’s innovating best. From our front-row seats, we've been asked to share a few thoughts on this year’s show.

Last year it was all about storytelling and being nimble in a changing marketing world. Last week, the focus was on content creation and distribution, technology, "maker" culture, and results. It seems that marketing's insatiable need for content has spawned a whole new ecosystem of providers, with Hollywood gaining a new relevance. 

Many agencies have concluded that they can't do it all in a multichannel world and are trading in the full-service model in favour of collaboration with a range of partners.

Agency attitude has changed, too. Creativity is king, but agencies are more business-like, sharply focussing on solving clients’ business problems and obsessing, quite rightly, over results. 

Maker culture is the future

Digital is at the heart of everything. Every agency, from creative to PR, to media, to design, claims its business is built around a digital core and that digital is part of all they create.

Content is king. The 30-second TV spot maintains its role and relevance, but agencies are re-engineering their production models to feed the proliferation of content required to roll out ideas across multiple touch points and fuel conversation, often in real time.

Advertising that gets talked about. It’s getting tougher to get noticed — demanding better and bigger ideas for consumers to engage with. We watched campaign after campaign led by the TV spot, followed by viral content and then social, with a cut to morning news shows with Mr. or Mrs. Anchorperson laughing or weeping, sometimes both, over the latest trending work. 

Search for talent. With digital a part of life, and with pressure building to produce great campaigns that get talked about 24/7 in a multiplatform world, the biggest challenge for every agency leader is how to attract and retain top talent.

Technology/innovation. Without doubt, our biggest thrill during the week was to see glimpses of the advertising model changing. It is moving from one of hourly charges, with the hamster-wheel machine continuously producing creative ideas to build clients’ businesses, to a model that uses strategic and creative skills to develop digital products and services in specialist partnerships with clients, with shared ownership and IP. Clearly, the maker culture is the future.

Quotes of the week

Curated by Navigare's Cam Carter:

"Everything is shoppable. Every screen should be an opportunity for commerce."

"You need snackable content."

"Data drives mass personalisation."

"We think of ourselves as an audience development firm."

"When procurement opens the negotiation saying they want a win/win for everyone, I say, 'Fine. So you want to win twice!' " 

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast."

"The only way to be first is to know what's next."

"Let's get past the lobotomy-level stuff first."

"All the consumer sees is the work, so we've got to focus on the work. And love the work."

"I've never seen a PBR model that isn't a disguised revenue reduction model."

Peter Cowie is co-founder of Oystercatchers, a marketing firm with headquarters in London.

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