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The Transition from ‘Digital as a Silo’ to ‘Digital as an Organization’

Josh Crick, CANVAS United

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Agencies and brands are attempting a move toward a consumer-centric vs. channel-centric model. If we all agree digital (beyond product) is the most effective way to enable this evolution, why is it so difficult for us to get out of our own way and find success?

Change is hard, but doable. It’s all in the design.

I believe it’s because we’re so confident we’re “right” and those that can’t understand our point of view are “wrong.” Yes, many of us are attempting to transform, but we’re doing it begrudgingly. We’re so effective at communicating on a daily basis that we believe the misunderstanding has to be caused by everyone else’s lack of comprehension. As you read this, think less about “we all know that” and more about “how can we make that actionable beyond our industry”.

We’ll need a new philosophy.

It starts with our willingness to adapt and evolve. For the UNITED COLLECTIVE, it means embracing the MVP philosophy as the baseline for behavior within an organization. Test, learn, and repeat. Living in Beta. All of those buzzy phrases. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. Too often we talk a good game about taking risks, but we punish our teams for the smallest of mistakes. If we lead this way, there’s absolutely no incentive to push the boundaries and try something uncomfortable. As a result, teams fall into self-preservation mode. As agency leaders, we must help teams delineate between the importance of day-to-day consistency and the need to pursue creative opportunities for growth. We must also remove the fear typically associated with trying and failing, and instead reward the passion to explore. That is the MVP culture we must all embrace.

We also need to speak the same language.

We need to clarify the meaning of “digital.” It’s simultaneously a narrow and broad term, and our job as (so-called) experts is to help establish the definition. In a best-case scenario, the majority of us think of digital like this: media, social, content, .com, retail, mobile, etc. In short, channels. Remember at the beginning when I said we need to stop talking to ourselves? Yeah, that again. Consumers don’t think like us. For them, digital could be a product like Peloton, a service such as Dominos recent Hotspots, or even broad-reaching infrastructure like cryptocurrency. In those examples, consumers never thought about digital. They thought about an engaging way to exercise, a better way to order food, and a new way to pay. It doesn’t mean ads no longer matter, it’s just a tilt of the lens. Consumers live through experiences not channels, and we need to reflect that mentality in our approach.

Execution requires addressing the internal and external hurdles.

First, we all need to make some difficult decisions regarding the teams we’ve built and fought to protect over the years. Our internal approach is the “draft board.” Build your dream team of internal and external resources; but, focus on capabilities and skills rather than individuals. From there, it’s possible to evaluate today’s team against your future state. Who fits, who doesn’t, and who needs training to get where they need to be. It’s never easy to have these discussions, but our teams can either support change or bring it to a grinding halt. A well-planned transition and training of your team will be critical to your future, and while you’re at it give your clients visibility. They’ll respect your transparency and investment, and they may learn a thing or two as well.

It isn’t news, but consumers aren’t the only group that wants more than an ad. As you’ve likely heard, P&G’s Mark Pritchard is touting a push to 75% of fees going toward creative. So, how can we make a shift that dramatic? Our approach at UNITED COLLECTIVE, is a hybrid staffing model that emphasizes a tightly-knit lead team combined with a network of world-class internal & external specialists. The lead team is a consistent presence with a strong understanding of the client’s business, and our specialty teams are tapped based on the creative needs. The lead team could be heavier in strategy, production or creative, thereby closing the gap between the need and those that are best equipped to respond. It’s important to note, our clients have full visibility into how we work. Also, important, is the inclusion of a selected partner during the concepting phase and not during a triple-bid process after the fact. Clients are pleased with the results of this model, and our teams are excited by the ongoing improvement in quality and craft brought to bear.

Another outside pressure comes from procurement and their efforts to maximize spend. To be clear, I don’t blame or find fault with clients and their procurement departments. They have a job to do and if we can’t prove our value, that’s on us. “But, they’re squeezing us to death,” you say. Then, speak to them on their terms. How many of you have dealt with Zero Based Budgeting (ZBB)? If you haven’t yet, you will in the near future. ZBB is a method of budgeting that restacks the investment for each new period. In order to do this, the client must have actionable data and be able to partner with their finance teams to justify the optimized investment. I raise this point, because it is an area where we can control our own fate. Have you helped your client map all of their touchpoints, the related data for each touchpoint, and the owners of that data? Have you helped them consolidate all of that data? Have you helped them migrate their assets into a DAM platform that reduces production costs and drives consistency? I could go on and on, but this is a huge area of opportunity for agencies to truly be partners with their clients. I believe now more than ever that the more we can give our clients visibility and control into their business, the more they will respect and trust us.

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About the author: Josh Crick is an award-winning digital architect who brings 20 years of experience to his dual role at UNITED COLLECTIVE where he is responsible for helping clients connect their business with technology to better engage today’s cross-cultural consumer and meet the fast-changing needs of the evolving consumer marketplace.