Global President of Carat and Festival of Media MENA 2017 speaker Will Swayne shares his thoughts about the changing world of agencies and technology with Communicate.
What does global success look like for Carat over the next year?
Maintaining the momentum that we have across the network, winning and retaining clients as well equipping the network to redefine the service we offer to our clients. The acquisition of Merkle into Dentsu Aegis network in 2016, gives Carat the capability to put real people at the heart of media planning and activation, this takes our insight and planning leadership position to the next level. 2017 is about continuing to take our clients on a journey of the value we can bring as their partner, winning new ones, and accelerating our product and people transformation.
You have been in the job for just over a year now; what has been your greatest achievement to date as the global CEO of Carat?
Any leader in the digital economy needs to skate two paths, deliver momentum in the short term whilst ensuring we are transforming for the future. I am proud of the progress we have made against these two objectives. 2016 was our most successful year ever in terms of client retention and new business billings combined; we retained our number one quality status within RECMA and made great strides in redefining the blend of capabilities we have across the network, particularly in the area of data.
How does Carat stay relevant in a media landscape where disruption is the new norm?
We have always invested ahead of our competitors in consumer insight with our proprietary insight and planning system, the Consumer Connection System. Successful businesses in the digital economy are people-led; putting people at the center of decision-making has never been more important. We will continue to focus on ensuring that Carat’s consumer insight product is market leading and that we can plan an activate people with greater fidelity than ever before.
How does an agency need to pivot or operate in 2017 and 2018 to survive?
First and foremost having a handle on where our clients need to pivot to and then having a plan for how we partner with them to support them as they go on that journey.
What is the key to winning new business in today’s media landscape?
People spend more time in media than ever before. Media is now a much bigger strategic growth driver for all businesses. What unites all new business pitches is that every client is looking to accelerate growth, success comes from listening hard, understanding the broader business challenges and formulating a partnership that is win-win for the client and the agency.
What is your take on fake news and what does it mean for the future of media?
This is an ongoing issue for the industry as a whole affecting journalists, publishers, agencies, brands and most importantly the consumers of this content. As technology continues to evolve and more people have access to easily and freely create web content, it is an area that the industry will need to be ever more vigilant about. This is likely to come down to a dual response of regulation and technology. The big players such as Google and Facebook are likely to face tighter external control moving forward, being treated as publishers and therefore having to operate under similar publishing regulation as the BBC and Channel 4 in the UK. Advertisers will also demand tighter control of content by the big media owners, and so I predict there will be more investment in technology to help identify and block fake content.
How will AI and automation impact media agencies?
As with all businesses, there is certain work that can easily be automated. AI = quicker, smarter decisions. We have a Data Innovation Centre in Singapore from where we are running a number of pilots. These include how we apply machine learning to media planning, removing the time consuming, easily automated day-to-day tasks such as competitive work, and allowing us to focus on more strategic questions that can drive greater value.
The biggest challenges that you are facing at the moment?
The biggest challenge we face is repositioning ourselves in the value chain. Legacy within our industry defines value as “cheap media”, whereas we know that the lens in which value is defined has changed. Media has never been more important to brands and businesses, our ability to really understand people’s needs and behaviors has never been greater. The consumer no longer follows a linear journey and the digital economy means consumers are ever closer to the point of transaction. Being able to understand this and translate this into strategies for clients that support their growth agenda, this is where we see the value of agencies evolving. Our challenge is that there is huge inconsistency in how clients pitch for a media agency. We find ourselves often compromised, underselling the value we believe our discipline can bring to conform to legacy pitch processes.
Facebook and measurement: what does the future hold?
As a group, measurement has always been a topic high on our agenda and we have made significant investments from pioneering pilot projects with media owners to acquisitions of companies that bring in the best talent to drive this agenda forward within the group. We believe there is no unique approach regarding measurement. Although we highly value and strongly strive for third party solutions whenever possible, we are open to other forms of measurement as long as media owners bring more transparency on the calculation of their metrics. Our contribution at the Facebook Measurement council is the representation of our engagement and our desire to help the industry to move forward in the right direction in the interests of our clients.
We believe that measurement is a collective responsibility which should be discussed by different key stakeholders in our industry: media owners, advertisers, agency holding groups, research companies and advertising business organizations in order to lead to the definition of a standard for online measurement.