We live in interesting times, driven in particular by technological advances and as such, agencies and their clients have to be prepared for massive change. Glenda Nevill talks to Johanna McDowell.
Managing director of South Africa’s Independent Agency Search and Selection company (IAS), Johanna McDowell, recently returned for the annual Ad Forum Worldwide Summit in New York fired up after spending time learning and networking with some of the world’s best creative media brains.
She’s optimistic that South Africa will benefit from the anticipated changes, particularly in terms of being a “stepping stone” into Africa. “Africa is rising, but it’s slow. Nevertheless, it offers growth opportunities,” she says. “It may not be a huge amount of income, yet, but strategically, Africa is on the map.”
There has been a spate of agency acquisitions in South Africa recently, with global operators such as Publicis and WPP snapping up successful local agencies.
“For me what’s interesting is to see how agencies and clients have already changed their views,” says McDowell. “Seven years ago agencies were China mad. And they ignored this huge mass of a continent. Now with infrastructure and telecoms developments, and technology, Africa is looking good while Europe is flat. India is flat. China did not live up to their expectations.”
She believes global agencies don’t make the kind of investments they’ve been making here if they’re simply going to walk away soon. “Not when they’ve thrown the kind of money they have at buying South African agencies,” she says. McDowell says they are “cagey” about the actual numbers but one can be sure substantial investments are being made.
McDowell believes this kind of global investment is good for South African media and creative agencies. “It gives us exposure to international knowledge and professional practices,” she says.
There’s another spinoff, she believes. “We are going to see a plethora of start-ups,” she says. “Agency people by nature are start-up people. So it’s all very well buying up agencies but eventually those who’ve sold their businesses to global agencies will think ‘okay, done this now, what’s next’. We’re in for interesting times,” she predicts.
Speaking of predictions, what are the global trends to come out of Ad Forum? McDowell ticks them off. Proper use of big data will drive mass personalisation. Emoticons and ‘snackable’ content is on the radar (no more long emails). Collaboration and a sharing economy will become ever more prevalent. ‘Shopability’ means every screen on every device should provide a commercial opportunity, should be ‘shoppable’. “Shareability’ is now a metric. And another should be ‘return on involvement’. The ‘internet of everything’ IS everything, from ecosystems to connectivity and on to functional integration. Oh, and brands are still in control.
True that, but also true is the impact of social media and how that has empowered consumers, says McDowell. Still talking change, she says no one is talking ‘digital’ any more. Everything is integrated, says McDowell. The debate about public relations versus advertising is increasing as the focus on storytelling grows ever more important. PR practitioners are now delivering “creative content”, even to the extent of employing creative service directors with ad agency backgrounds.
Advertising, in turn, has its new challenges. McDowell says partnerships and collaborations are skills creative agencies must now develop to remain relevant. She lists the buzzwords in the sector as talent, activation, technology, storytelling and culture.
To help clients deal with these changes, the IAS is hosting a series of masterclasses for marketers next year. “These classes are designed specifically and exclusively for corporate marketers who value exposure to thought leadership on local and global marketing trends and specialist teaching on best practice in getting the best out of their relationship with an agency with whom they work,” says McDowell.
The first Marketers Masterclass for 2015 will launch in Johannesburg in February – the topic for the launch class Procurement – Friend or Foe? UK-based Procurement and Marketing expert, Tina Fegent, will present A better way to SLAs.
“This new offering has been introduced in response to numerous requests from IAS’s South African marketing clients who value specialist knowledge and are committed to continuing professional development,” says McDowell.
Themes include: How to get the best out of client-agency relationships; Negotiating the pitch process; Updates of pertinent legalities that affect the industry as well as How best to evaluate creative work. All topics will be relevant to marketers working with agencies in the advertising and communication sectors.
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