Media agencies have had to wrestle with a huge amount of disruption, but the ones who’ve done so successfully are coming out both more technologically savvy and more human.
As humanity’s shell shock from the pandemic wanes slightly and some form of normality settles in, all industries are contending with the challenge of how to respond to rapid, exponential transformation of modern life by technology.
Worldwide adoption of smartphones has given rise to mobile connectivity and a scaled ability for ordinary people to share ideas with global audiences in real time. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the disruption of business services by intelligent systems is creating the perfect storm for a paralysing state of flux. For good measure, throw the Covid-19 pandemic into the mix and you have a recipe for unforeseen changes in human history at an unparalleled pace.
Even though some companies have transitioned to this new reality well, the majority are still grappling with drastic changes that most business leaders thought they would only have to deal with 10 years from now. As an example: “Mastercard estimates that e-commerce made up roughly $1 out of every $5 spent on retail in 2020, up from $1 out of every $7 in 2019, while Facebook found that four in 10 consumers were buying things online that they used to in-store.” (Source: WARC Marketer’s Toolkit 2022).
One of the key trends of “today” (because we don’t call it “the new normal” any more) is this idea of people shifting away from unconscious consumption, and expecting a lot more from businesses in terms of purpose, wellness and making the world a better place. The marketing industry is already looking inward and tackling critical issues, such as the impact of the advertising industry’s carbon footprint and impact on the planet.
Last year, Purpose Disruptors reported that the advertising industry in the UK could be adding as much as 28% to the annual carbon footprint of every person. SeenThis found that media’s operating infrastructure is on par with that of the aviation industry when it comes to the emission of greenhouse gases. In other words, the creation of online content is hugely damaging to the environment. What we can deduce from this is that people don’t just want us to appear to be better; they expect us to do better. Some agencies have embarked on environmental sustainability journeys. PHD Germany launched PHD Zero, an industry-first initiative aimed at reducing the carbon impact of developing, producing, and running advertising to real net-zero.
The complexities facing us are inspiring organisations to explore using advertising for good. Hollard, for example, started their Big Ads For Small Businesses initiative, awarding billboards to small businesses that otherwise could not afford them.
In the aftermath of last July’s violent riots, Primedia Broadcasting and CliffCentral came to the rescue of Alex FM by giving a donation and space after the community radio station was vandalised. Meanwhile, other media owners such as JCDecaux and brands like Nando’s, in collaboration with their communities, cleaned up areas affected by the unrest.
The MTN Group also donated $25-million to support the African Union’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.
The power of purpose
This type of activity is an indicator of players in the industry taking up shared responsibility in social issues and using their positions of influence for the greater good of humanity. What makes this trend even more interesting is that 58% of global marketers surveyed by WARC last year agreed on the importance of distinction when it comes to sustainability and purpose initiatives. Purpose is also a key driver of growth, as we saw in Zeno Group’s ground-breaking Strength of Purpose global study, which showed (across more than 75 global brands) that consumers responded favourably to brands with strong purpose. The study revealed that if a brand had strong purpose, consumers were four times more likely to purchase from it and 4.5 times more likely to advocate for it to their friends and family. These odds are too significant for any savvy marketer to overlook.
The right tools
The role of agencies today is way more nuanced than pre-Covid times, because we need to integrate seamlessly with our business partners and help them make the necessary leap/s to keep up with a rapidly changing consumer and media landscape. Therefore, it is important for agencies to invest in technology and build tools that give partners access to data. Moreover, these tools should empower them to hold transformative conversations with their internal stakeholders and get their teams aligned with consumer shifts happening on the ground.
At PHD, we collaborated with our marketing data science partner, Annalect, and built an award-winning productivity platform called Omni Studio. This operating system helps us aggregate all our data intelligence and nurture tech-driven collaboration with our partners at a global scale. Similarly, Wavemaker rolled out its own AI-based, multi-audience planning platform, Maximize, which promises to help planner target fragmented audiences end to end.
What these developments entrench is the notion that data makes our media agency world go round. Hence, agencies serious about future-proofing themselves need to invest in tools that can formulate integrated insights from multiple data touchpoints.
Tallying the toll
Over and above tech investments, organisations need to understand the psychological toll that the pandemic has had on employees. For example, working from home hinders the formation of bonds that can only be achieved when teammates interact in person. This also presents opportunity for businesses to explore creative ways of creating happy work cultures.
In response, PHD South Africa has embarked on numerous initiatives to build culture and develop people, with a number of new practices adopted to help with overall health and wellness:
- To connect better, we schedule a few early-morning socially distanced walks through some of Johannesburg’s most beautiful outdoor parks. This gives new recruits the chance to have water-cooler chat in nature with some of the most senior staff and feel #proudtobephd.
- This pandemic has highlighted the importance of being human, so all our staff get an extra day of leave on their birthdays to help mitigate the working at home/sleeping at work quandary and to celebrate being away from screens. This is over and above the office being closed in the festive week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
- Mental wellness has taken centre stage via a mindfulness coach, who has equipped all staff with basic meditation tools to aid personal development and transformation.
- ICAS International, a leading global provider of employee assistance programmes, health, and well-being services has been available on various platforms, with far more regular updates shared.
- During lockdown, our diverse employees complied two local Cook eBooks sharing our best-kept cultural heritage recipes and quips, a tasty and light complement to all the thought leadership work published in Shift in 2021.
People are a business’s most important asset, which is why it’s important for our industry to develop talent and breed world-class media experts constantly. Ultimately, growth in today’s economy will be decided by an agency’s ability to synergise technology, data and talent. Technology will improve efficiencies, data will improve the quality of decision-making and talent will help steer the business in the right direction.
Lindile Ndube is an applied intelligence practitioner, systems thinker, and a skilled complex problem solver. He works as a strategic lead at PHD.
Bianca Sidelsky is a creative, analytical and strategically minded media specialist with more than 18 years’ experience. She is strategy and client lead at PHD Johannesburg.