Why Some Agencies Are Dying

I have experienced a crazy trend in the past six months, the client movement to have multiple and diverse agencies working together. Tenacity5 has already experienced five partnering deals with other agencies this year and it’s only July. I may have partnered five times total in the past five years preceding 2015.

Sharing the revenue pie is not something most agencies do well. However, some agencies are suffering as a result. Others are dying. They cannot adapt to the new collaborative approach clients are demanding.

My friend Patrick Ashamalla sent me this year’s SODA Report (see the below chart), which showed that highly specialized players are taking a larger priority. Pair this with the the whole “agency of record is dying” trend and you have a movement.

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CMOs don’t want to hire a generalist firm to execute their entire scope of work. It’s not reasonable to expect a one size fits all agency will do a decent job on all of activities in a significant scope of work. CMOs don’t believe agencies that say they can do it all. In fact, they find such claims suspect.

The Collaboration Economy

Collaborate Well
Image Courtesy of Wild Blue Yonder.

Corroborating this trend was Gary Duke’s excellent Wild Blue Yonder research presented to DC Ad Club last week. Gary dubbed this the Polygamous Client trend, and noted it is spreading like wildfire across the Fortune 1000.

Those agencies who want to remain competitive need to become more agile, collaborative and highly specialized. Those who are not evolving and insist on the mass integrated marcomm agency role are shrinking.

“Agencies must take on a collaborative approach with other agencies because they simply don’t have any other choice today,” said Gary Duke via email. “It’s not only what clients expect — it’s what they demand of their agency partners. If it’s not in your DNA to play well with others in the sandbox, then you just better pick up your toys and go home.”

Of the agency efforts I have participated on this year, some have been super fluid and one in particular was a disaster. And in that case the primary partner clearly wanted all pieces of the biz, was not collaborative or transparent, and ignored other agency/partner recommendations in spite of a clear lack of competency in some project areas. No surprise: The relationship and overall initiative blew up.

The Nimble Agency of Now

Collaboration Scores
Image Courtesy of Wild Blue Yonder.

Jeremiah Owyang likes to talk about Crowd Companies, businesses that share resources on the Internet. Well, the agency business has not quite devolved to that point, though you could argue that companies like crowdSPRING have eroded the bottom side of the market.

CMOs want access to agencies or agency teams with wide spread resources, usually freelancers and other partners. That means an agency must work well with others, share scope, and bring on third party resources as needed.

In essence, they want more nimble partners who have access to diverse capabilities. They want best of breed in every marketing function. Integration is still needed, but instead of it being under one roof, marketing organizations want agencies that can assemble or play with assembled teams that possess superior niche skill sets.

These are shared resources in many ways. That means integration is a result of project management instead of scope or overall billing. Project management across diverse creative assets becomes a necessary skill for the strategy lead. Duke hammered this point home over and over again in his presentation.

Here are some steps I am taking as a result of this trend:

  • Building a diverse agency partner network to refer and garner referrals
  • Doubling down on focus and expertise in digital content and platform creation
  • Avoiding services spread into areas that we are not good at, such as SEO, media buying, branding, media relations, etc.
  • Building stronger project management skillsets
  • Taking an adaptive attitude towards strategy, specifically be willing to drive or psimply fulfill a role as needed.

Are you seeing a similar trend with your business?

7 Signs of the Post Social Media Era

Social media is not a new driver of the Internet, relatively speaking. At best, social data is harnessed to serve larger technology trends like contextual media, marketing automation, and more. In turn, social media and related marketing conversations are no longer groundbreaking. The larger business world has moved on to the next thing.

This “post social media” trend crystallized for me at SxSW V2V last week. Start-ups were working on new technologies and approaches, but they widely ranged from space start-ups to Shinola (CEO Jacques Panis pictured above), a Detroit based maker of high quality wrist watches. What wasn’t central to the V2V conversation was social media. At most, start-ups discussed social as a means to include customers in conversations and innovation, but not the end product of their innovation.

Several larger stories and trend corroborate this post social trend. Here are seven signs that the U.S. social media era of innovation is coming to a close:

1) The Medium Changed

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Internet media evolved and became more mobile, visual and data-centric, and the dollars and associated conversations followed. If you look at what Internet start-ups are focusing on today it tends to be mobile-centric, automation, data applications, contextual use, location media and other types of applications.

New social networking apps, while still developing, are not generating huge investment rounds or attention anymore. Heck, even the most mainstream of social networking apps are retooling to meet the new mobile visual Internet. As the old adage goes, follow the money.

2) Wall Street IPOs Are Waning

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In that vein, the social media IPO craze — led by LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter — looks like it may be coming to close. This year’s biggest social media IPOs are coming from Chinese start-ups Line and Alibaba. No big U.S. social media start-ups are on the horizon with the exception of Pinterest.

3) The Rise of “Dark” Social

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Original image by Blake Herman

Dark social is the movement towards conversations that are not public anymore. Private social network communities and newer networks like WhatsApp and SnapChat thrive on people saying what they think without the repercussions of public data, ad retargeting, attention from customer service nazis, and helicopter actions from bosses and parents.

The movement away from public conversation is a significant loss for social media in the conventional sense. People are no longer willing to be transparent because the repercussions of public discourse are too high. Eventually, even those private conversations will become dangerous (like texts and emails that end up in court) causing more off-line dialogue.

4) Thought Leadership Vacuum Appearing

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When my friend Jeremiah Owyang started focusing on collaborative economy models instead of social media, I was really happy for him. At the same time, I could not help but note that another thought leader had moved on from the general social media discussion. With each passing month another member of the old guard stops blogging or moves on to a new venture.

Those that remain — new and old — seem challenged to offer a new conversation beyond Facebook and Twitter dalliances, influencers, and content marketing. While there may be new wrinkles every now and then, I see granular progress compared to the advancements made a few years ago.

5) The Commoditization of Social Media Content

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Original Image by the Foodie Buddha

When discussing the above thought leadership trend with Rich Becker last week, he said one of the primary drivers is the commoditization of social media content. I had to agree with him. To be clear we’re not talking all content, rather content about social media and how to use it.

There are so many people producing social media marketing and trend blog posts that even when a thought leader writes something original, their content fails to stand out. The growing crowd of social media experts — from AdAge beat reporters to mom and pop bloggers — is an underlying cause of today’s content shock conversation, too. A gourmet burger is still just a burger in an online world with a chain on every corner.

6) Gaming Google with Social Gets Harder

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It used to be that social media was a primary way to drive SEO for topical issues. Brands and SEO experts figured out how to use social updates and content to achieve top rank, and the games began. But Google has responded with a series of initiatives — Panda, Penguin and eliminating keywords — that are effectively dampening and possibly even eliminating the SEO industry.

Online word of mouth is still used as a search algorithm signal, but increasingly it must be organic and earned, something many marketers won’t invest in. It’s much easier to buy access with ads and other tactics. As a result, those people and brands not truly vested in social communities are moving on.

7) The Biggest Trend in Social Is… TV?

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Original Image by CBS LA.

Today’s biggest advances in social media marketing seem to be the integration of traditional television programming (live and on demand), native advertising, and visual social elements in a cross-screen smorgasbord of transmedia delight. Even social TV and transmedia not new trends. Rather, this is the maturation of media and technology to serve the advertising industry.

So those are the seven signals that are making me think we’ve quietly entered a new era in Internet marketing. What do you think?

Want more? Read 12 Ways to Boost Your Visual Media Performance.

Grace and Grinches

This time of year seems to bring out both the best and the worst in people. I almost succumbed to the latter this week after reading enough nastiness and social media BS to feel inspired to write a contrarian blog. But instead of becoming yet another grinch, I opted to write this appeal for grace.

The holidays can offer a beautiful time of year, but they can be really depressing and hard. Not everyone has a strong family, if they have a family at all. Some people are alone. Some people just feel bad. And others don’t want to be held, talked to, or greeted.

Holiday misery is a condition, a rut that sometimes we cannot escape. I have been there. One Christmas when I was in my early 20s I was so depressed I decided not to come home, and just sat in my house in DC, and tried to drown my misery in booze, food and other pleasures.

Today, I know that when I surround myself with such negativity, I often succumb to it. It’s so easy to lash out when I feel bad. And as you can see, it creates a ripple effect.

But I am older and more experienced now. Instead of contributing to the angst, this year I am simply passing on it, and choosing to be present for those who want a warmer conversation. I understand those who are suffering, but at the same time grace is about rising above, and offering a warm spirit no matter how hard the Grinches try to spread their seed of misery.

Desperately Wanting

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Whoville by L_D_SAINT

So welcome to the Whoville Christmas (from a Christmas Tree Jew, no less)! What could I offer during this time of year when so many people are focused on getting the gifts they want?

Perhaps what we all desperately want in our deepest innermost souls: To be acknowledged and respected regardless of place or time or position or race or…
We live in the era of the selfie and the like. People want to be acknowledged and want attention. Whether it’s a grocery clerk working extra hours or the social media celebrity posting their 80th selfie of the year, people do want their peers to respect them.

While social media empowers and amplifies this desire to a sometimes distasteful level, that base need to be liked remains. Just like it did before Biz, Zuck, Jack and the rest of the social networking pioneers empowered us.

Here it is, a big shout out to some of the many people in the online world who made my 2013 brighter.

Kaarina Dillabough: You coached me up off the floor last January. I will always be in your debt.

Scott Stephens: For being my friend on and offline even when my knee wouldn’t let me run again.

Margie Clayman: You are always lifting me up, whether you know it or not. You have a big, big heart, lady. Thank you.

Patrick Ashamalla and Shonali Burke: xPotomac… It’s back, and better than ever thanks to you.

Seth Godin: I did my rounds and made my amends over the past two years. You were the last one. Thank you for your grace, welcoming me into your office, and treating me with respect. I will never forget that. Thank you.

Andrea Weckerle: Thanks for asking me to help your Civilination fundraiser. It helped me, too, and I think we did some good.

Erin Feldman: We grew together quite a bit this year. Thanks for being my editor and mobile media cohort!

Jennifer Stevens: Hard to believe that we have worked on three books together. To our fourth next year!

Howard Greenstein: You really have become a fantastic friend. Thank you!

Mitch Joel, Jay Baer, C.C. Chapman, Tamsen Webster, Tom Webster, Scott Monty, Jeremiah Owyang, Christopher Penn, Laura Fitton, David Armano, Richard Binhammer, Todd Defren, and Jason Falls: You remain kind and present, and I have noticed. Thank you.

Jess Ostroff: You worked so hard to help me make my novel-writing dream come true. Thank you!

Rogier Noort, Ralph Rivera, Shelly Kramer, Todd Jordan, Brian Meeks, Ian Gordon, Chuck Hester, and Rob Whittle (who just published Pointer’s War), Susan Cellura, and so many others I can’t even possibly list them. Thank you for supporting me on Exodus. It was a scary leap of faith to publish that thing, and the most fulfilling words I have ever released to the world.

Brian Vickery: Your presence is amazing, consistent and always friendly. You rock, sir.

Daria Steigman: Where to begin? Nats, baseball chatter, and all things Exodus.

Bob Fine: Another Nats fan who has paid it forward in so many ways. Bob, I look forward to returning the favors.

Anne Weiskopf: You are a deeply courageous person. Thank you for your strength and beauty.

Bob LeDrew and A.M. van den Hurk: Your punk fundraiser showed me the good side of PVSM when I least expected it. Cheers.

Michele Price: Lots of love my friend for many good radio shows and conversations. Cheers!

Kevin Chick-Dockery: We learned a lot together, and more than any person you helped me to stay on Facebook. Because I really did come close to pulling the plug on the Zuck.

Brian Solis: Thank you for your words at INBOUND.

Kami Huyse: You helped on that thing via the backchannel. I didn’t expect you to, and you did.

Jason Konopinski: What a roller coaster ride of a year. You ended up where you wanted to be, and we got to share a few stogies along the way. Cheers!

Lisa Gerber: We are not alone. And we both like guac, who knew?

Liz Scherer: We seem to be on the same path of gradually softening, maybe. LOL! Love you, Liz.

Richard Becker: Your fight with cancer this year was scary and courageous. Congratulations on making it. Glad we will have a few more conversations about this and that.

Stacey Miller: It was a blast newsjacking and shredding up the social web together on behalf of Vocus. Cheers.

Brian Driggs: Your comments are insightful, your vision is admirable. Thank you for visiting as much as you do!

Grace is not my strong suit, so forgive me if I left you out in my sleep deprived dotage. If you liked this post, rather than sharing it, please pass the spirit along and give someone a random appreciation today. Everyone could use a little more peace and happiness rolling into the new year.

Thank you, and I hope you all enjoy the holidays.

Image by Barry Graubart

Sharing and Collaboration

Businesses think they own their products and experiences. That’s why they brand them, put their personal mark on them, and make signature experiences.

The role community members play in creating and developing successful brands is a stark change. This collaborative shift is caused by technology in the form of social and  mobile, and a new “we” ethos brought on by millennials.

Last week, my friend Jeremiah Owyang and the Altimeter Group team released a major study called The Collaborative Economy that drove this point home.

Brands continue evolving from something discussed to collaborative distribution channels built on the premise of sharing products and services. In many ways, collaboration provides an opportunity for businesses to create a new sales channel, something I will discuss later this week on the Vocus Marketing blog.

Beyond the core business opportunity, the movement marks a larger economic and cultural shift towards community based models.  Socialism and its less successful offshoot communism produced global failures centered on fulfilling the ideal of community based sharing. In an ironic turnabout, the collaborative economy leverages capitalism to fulfill that  ideal through a pretty cool market based approach.
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The Converged Media Imperative

The Convergence of Paid, Owned & Earned Media

Yesterday afternoon, the Altimeter Group released a report called “The Converged Media Imperative: How Brands Must Combine Paid, Owned and Earned Media.” Authors Rebecca Lieb and Jeremiah Owyang discuss the increasingly blended media environment of traditional, online and advertising media. In total, consumers face 3000 daily brand impressions.

The report makes a strong call for integration across digital, traditional and earned media, saying that brands that do not integrate are at a disadvantage.

“Marketers who fail to reconcile paid, owned and earned media today will be at a distinct disadvantage,” state Lieb and Owyang.
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Shiny Object Syndrome: Don’t Fondle the Hammer

The following is draft material for the second edition of Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print. Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

foursquare.jpgWhen seeking to inspire a conversation about one’s initiative — whether it’s product, cause or simply education — the first instinct drives one to reach for the hot tool of the day. Since the first Now Is Gone was written, this has shifted from blogs to Facebook/Twitter to widgets and applications to iPhone apps to now geolocation networks FoursSquare and Gowalla, as well as Facebook again (thank you, Open Graph).

First dubbed Shiny Object Syndrome by PR Squared Blogger Todd Defren in 2005, this phenomenon plagues organizations, companies and individuals to adapt the latest social communications tool. It’s often based on peer pressure, buzz, or a desire to be one of the first. The issue belies strategic approaches to social communications.

Ace social technology analyst Jeremiah Owyang has in time called the phenomena “Fondling the Hammer.” Web strategists oft focus on the tool rather than their strategic approach. While we have a general strategy towards creating a great conversation, we need to best understand how to participate within that community, create an approach that will work with it, rather than just run to the shelf an pick up the latest power tool.

Unfortunately, while in the short term placating a need to play with the newest communications toy, Shiny Object Syndrome can create terrific wastes of money. That in turn, can create terrible consequences for organizations, executives and communicators alike.

In Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff‘s classic book Groundswell the home run statement, “concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.” The community drives social media, not social media in their many technological forms. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff also note that Shiny Object Syndrome can become a major barrier to success in their fourth chapter.

Getting beyond Shiny Object Syndrome requires the lead communicator to STOP! Then go back to the master communications plan. As unsexy as it is, a blog or a widget may still be your most powerful tool. A healthy evaluation of social media tools should reveal the tools stakeholders and their influencers are using, a critical determinant as these are the relationships you seek to forge.