The South African agency space is at a fork in the road, and the industry needs to make a concerted effort in deciding the way forward and the direction taken.
This is the view of Ricardo Lopes, group account director for Heineken and Jaguar Land Rover at the Dentsu Aegis Group, who was this year named the MOST Awards Media Agency Rising Star.
“Everyone is aware of the generational gap in the industry. You have the stalwarts with the experience and knowledge, then there’s this gap and then there’s us (the youngsters). We’re missing something there, and that tells me the industry is not in a great space. It means we don’t have enough talent coming into the system, and arguably I don’t know if we’re doing enough to train people up,” he explains.
His bottom line is that “we need more people to care” about the agency industry and “we need to make a concerted effort in improving the industry and the talent”.
Lopes identifies a vicious circle of cost cutting, tighter margins, scarce talent, and increasing salaries, but reassures that it’s not all doom and gloom, labelling himself an optimist. He has seen some amazing talent and work, the bright spots in an otherwise murky picture.
More accountability and the importance of clean data
A move to more accountability within agencies is a trend that Lopes has noticed, something that he predicted three years ago. “Clients starting to turn around to agencies and saying ‘prove that your media works’ and that it’s driving the effect that we want. More and more agencies are offering econometric modelling to start proving the worth of media and the right media mix, and we’ll definitely see it continuing,” he elaborates.
Another trend Lopes identifies as critical in today’s agencies is data, but he stresses that it must be “clean data”, i.e. correctly structured so that insights can be gleaned from the numbers. “If you don’t have data structured correctly and are using the correct taxonomies then it means nothing,” he believes.
Data privacy is an issue that needs to be watched closely, as it is becoming more prominent among people wanting to protect themselves. “We may find ourselves back in a mass marketing era, because we can collect the data, but consumers won’t want us to use it,” warns Lopes.
Always one to be bold enough to predict trends, Lopes sees another big shift coming. “There’s going to be a big move to getting this balance right between the brilliant basics and innovation,” he says. Clients want to ensure that their media is doing the right thing in terms of ROI, but they also want to innovate. But he emphasises that data should be used to drive the innovation and the process should always have accountability from the agencies.
Lopes moved from OMD to Dentsu Aegis Group, a week and a half before his win. In the month that has followed, he has been getting his feet wet and getting used to the new personalities he’s working with.
“The challenge, when you’re put onto two big pieces of business, you’re trying to find your feet very quickly and the analogy I’ve been using with everyone is, trying to take on water through a hosepipe that’s on full blast, and you’re just trying to swallow as much as you can,” he reveals.
Lopes joined at a very good time, as the agency group is going into its annual planning phase. An assessment of the business and its last year’s activities, in this period, will give him the chance to take on a huge amount of information in a very short space of time.
What next from Lopes?
With a bright future ahead of him, the only question remaining is where Lopes will be plying his trade. He is eyeing a possible move overseas in the next two to three years, either to Europe or Latin America, but no clear destination has been identified yet.
“I want to see the local industry do better, but I also want to go global and into the international market and be exposed to the things happening there,” he states.
Lopes also spoke about his MOST Agency Rising Star win and elaborated more on his move to Dentsu Aegis Group. Here are some his thoughts: