With new digital platforms popping up left and right, the marketing industry keeps pace to push Nevada businesses forward and out of the recession. Recently, a group of marketing executives met at the Las Vegas offices of City National Bank to discuss the trends and challenges facing their industry.
Connie Brennan, publisher and CEO of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. These monthly roundtables are designed to bring together leaders to discuss issues relevant to their industries. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.
What Issues face the marketing industry today?
Mary Ann Mele: The biggest challenge for us ladders up to the ability to market ourselves, generating leads, bringing in new clients and communicating what we do in a really clear way to clients.
Solveig Raftery: Talent is one of our biggest challenges. We’re looking for a certain type of person that may not fit in at other agencies.
Darcy Neighbors: Everyone thinks they can do marketing. It’s frustrating when there’s no strategy behind the tactical things that people are throwing out there.
Michael Thomas: It’s noisy out there right now. There are so many different fragmented channels and initiatives. Our challenge is to figure out how to temper the noise and keep our clients strategically focused.
Melissa Warren: Things are changing so fast and so quickly in the media marketplace. The speed at which information is received and expected to be disseminated is remarkable.
How have client expectations changed?
Stephanie Kruse: We’ve trained [clients] to expect more faster. Whether it’s the technology we use in the creative process or the technology we use for communications, they expect an almost immediate response. The expectations are very high but I think it’s in every professional services industry.
Neighbors: It’s become very global. Before, we were only using local printers and local talent. Now, the world is open to us and with that comes challenges, but it also comes with cost savings.
Thomas: Measurement is the focal point of just about every engagement. In our qualification process, if [prospective clients] can’t describe what they’re hoping to have as the outcome of an engagement and we can’t convince them to set the measurement, we probably won’t take on the engagement. The highest demand and growth area in our business is measurement and analytics optimization. It’s critical.
Kurt Ouchida: The age of analytics is really in question. The studies are done, the research is folded into something, but now we can go online instantaneously, know to click on what and get some deep data on what their behaviors are. We’re more educated on who the consumer is and how we can have some predictive indexes on where they’re going to go. At the same while, your client has that same access.
Greg Ferraro: As analytics improve, too, another issue that pops up is security and privacy. We’re going to deal with that a lot over the next decade because of the improvement of analytics and the dashboard that it gives you so much new insight.
Paul Stowell: For us on the corporate side, the analytics are absolutely critical. The digital age has allowed us to turn on a dime and change our strategic marketing and advertising decisions to where we can react more quickly. If something’s not working, we know immediately and change to go down a different path.
What is the public perception of the marketing industry?
Kruse: As an industry as a whole, there is less respect for ad people or publicity people. The old-school way of thinking about our industry isn’t laden with a lot of respect. We have changed, but I don’t think everyone’s perception of our industry has changed.
Kassi Belz: People come to us all the time for new business and want us to spend hours giving them every idea that we could possibly give them, not understanding that our ideas are the commodity that we’re selling. We struggle a lot with that. You get to a point where you wonder if you should cut this off or keep going. You have all this time invested and you’ve met with this person 16 times and there’s not much left for you to say except sign the contract, but they still want you to give them more. We spend a lot of time proving ourselves to a lot of people that you don’t have to do in other industries.
Warren: If you’re an attorney, you have a J.D. degree. You have a CPA degree if you’re an accountant. People think they’re marketers because they’re exposed to marketing every day. We don’t have the same level of respect; just look at our hourly billing rates. Compare us to the top law firm in town. We can’t charge what they charge and have clients willingly pay it. But it is client-by-client. Our long-term clients respect us and our opinion, and they let us run with it. Our newer clients have an introduction period where the trust is built up over time.
Brian Rouff: The burden of proof is definitely on us, especially if they’ve had a negative experience with another firm or individual. But that can work for you, too. Going that extra mile when producing for them will cause the light bulb to turn on and then they are loyal. It’s harder when you’re trying to develop business but it’s easier, if you do your job properly, to retain business.
Thomas: Some of the reputation might be well earned. We have to practice restraint in our industry and not say we’re experts in something when we’re not. The reputation comes from clients suffering from some really poor results. Now that the information is ubiquitous, out there as far as the studies and the enhancements, there is a new reality that sometimes our clients are going to be more educated about something as it relates to their specific business. It’s better to ask questions than to assume you’re the expert in the room.
Is there client loyalty?
Tim Quillin: It comes down to relationships that you form with your clients. For us, our agency is defined by the people, the personalities and the skills we bring to that table and people just have a comfort level with us. And we produce. If we didn’t have both, we wouldn’t be around.
Belz: While relationships are important, you spend a lot of time building these relationships yet they get gobbled up by the next [agency]. At the end of the day, it sometimes doesn’t matter how great of a job you did or the results you produced if they have someone else in a different market that’s doing their work.
Kruse: A study from the American Marketing Association a few years ago researched why clients switch marketing firms. The key reason is when there’s a change in the chief marketing officer.
Ferraro: Results still matter and people pay attention to those. When you need certain results and it’s a digital function or it’s a government function, you’re going to ask and go find the people who are best in that subspace. That does matter and that creates the credibility. The firms that are smaller are going to do better because they’re going to have a reputation as having created results in a certain place. As you get bigger and you have more demands on your business, there probably is scaling back to a comprehensive one-stop shop. For smaller firms, you’re going to be recognized in a certain way.
How are compensation models determined in the industry?
Warren: It’s mostly retainer for us. On a one-off project, we might do an hourly, but it’s generally behooves the client to pay us a retainer because we are always going to over-deliver. We’re always going to give them more than what they pay for. I would say 90 percent of our clients are on retainers.
Quillin: Pressures come from justifying retainers at the higher levels. There’s more demand for proof that you’re worth what you’re charging. The perception is that the agency is too expensive so I’ll just go here and here and here. It’s a bit frustrating at times as far as what we charge because, ultimately, we’re not [too expensive].
Rouff: We like to start clients with a project or two. If it works out and we like them and they like us, we transition them into a retainer. That seems to be a logical evolution for those kinds of relationships.
Mele: We do what we advise our clients to do, which is understand each of their customers individually and their targets. All our compensation is done custom because every single one of them has a different situation, a different scope and a different level of expectation. It’s really hard to do a one-size-fits-all.
Ferraro: Sometimes when you have the young start-ups, they’re skilled and focused in certain areas but this is usually the area where they’re not. It’s tougher because you can see the promise, the energy and the heart, but they have no budget. Sometimes you make the call to ride with them and sometimes you decide not to.
How do you balance experience with fresh talent?
Raftery: We work with teams and that’s what solves our problem. We try to have a team of however many people depending on the size of the client. There’s always a senior person.
Stowell: The marketing industry is no different from our industry in terms of relationships and reaching out to the client. When a branch manager or a private banking officer leaves, does that relationship go with them? We formulate teams where the client doesn’t get so attached to just one person.
Are rfps a part of your new business strategy?
Belz: We do a lot of Request for Proposals (RFPs) but I believe it needs to change. A simple change that can happen is giving us extra points for in-state preferential. We lost several to out-of-state [agencies]. You send all that money out of state for 50 points. As a industry, we tend to shy away from state RFPs.
Neighbors: We decided years ago that we’re just not going to participate. Our wisdom is what we get paid for.
Rouff: It’s a relationship business and you can’t begin to develop a relationship flying blind and filling out a form. We’ll maybe do one a year at this point. Our development time is better spent doing other things.
Thomas: Competition is not down-the-road anymore; 65 to 70 percent of our business is outside the state of Nevada. We’re competing with firms all over the world, for that matter. What frustrates us is that we don’t always see the best work come out of our state versus out-of-state. There are great products and a great pitch, but the execution doesn’t represent the changing nature of our state. There’s a fair question in judging the effectiveness of RFPs when they go out [of state]. I’ve never been asked by a state agency to audit the effectiveness of the marketing done. Companies hire us to audit their user experience and analytics. A more transparent process would be good for government because that’s when the best work comes out.
What makes a company successful in digital marketing?
Ferraro: As long as you can shape it to mobile [it can be successful]. The new number is 60 percent of Americans own a smartphone. Three years ago, it was only 45 percent. It’s going to continue to grow. If you can be in the mobile space with good, fresh and visual content, you’re going to make it.
Mele: It has to go beyond that. It can’t be just multiple channels to push out what we want to push out. It has to be 60 percent listening and 40 percent driving the conversation.
Ouchida: As long as you can drive compelling content that’s relevant to your particular market [you can be successful]. It’s building the content, but it’s also the sharing of it. They have to feel compelled to share it with their network. If it’s shareable content, then you’ve reached the goal.
Stowell: What’s interesting with social media now is trying to get your employees engaged in that process and the balance between privacy, legal issues and what they can and can’t say. There are companies that just have a blanket statement that says no social media during work hours. For us, we’ve asked our colleagues to get engaged in that process. As a company, you have to figure out what that line is going to be for your employees. They can be great advocates, or they can be not so great.