Those in marketing know, better than most, that change is inevitable. They track those changes and stay ahead of them to the benefit of their clients. As their industry undergoes changes, marketers adapt and revise their strategies in order to thrive. Recently, executives representing marketing in Nevada met at the Las Vegas offices of City National Bank to discuss the industry and what is needed to move forward.
Connie Brennan, publisher and CEO of Nevada Business Magazine served as moderator for the event. The magazine’s monthly roundtables bring together industry leaders to discuss relevant issues and solutions.
How has marketing changed in recent years?
Mike Draper: I think one of the challenges we’ve seen is how many clients are going in-house for their marketing. The agency model seems to be quickly becoming outdated. How do we evolve as agencies and consultants to provide the value that our clients are looking for? They can find the talent—especially with so many resources to communicate through digital and social [media]. The stat I read is that 78 percent of businesses are considering taking most of their advertising and media in-house. That’s one thing we’ve really been trying to address and how to become more nimble.
Tim Quillin: Our industry is being splintered with all the in-house services. I don’t think the full-service agency is dead as much as the full-service account is dead. We still find our way but we don’t have one single full-service client. What we’ve managed to do is to build individual departments inside our agency but no doubt the model has changed.
Meghan McLean: Right now, for marketers, there’s not just a demand to be creative and come up with really edgy, fun concepts that get attention but on the other side, we have to be data analysts.
Brian Rouff: Because things, as we all know, move so quickly, business models have been on my mind a lot and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a broken system. The old agency model is completely broken and irrelevant and obsolete, so we keep trying to figure out how to stay ahead of that. If you’re behind it, you may as well not be in business. It’s an ongoing internal discussion. There’s that challenge keeping up with technology that changes daily.
Kurt Ouchida: There’s one fundamental idea I don’t think we ever stray from. While a particular client has a newly graduated nephew who all of a sudden is a social media expert, they still don’t have what we bring together as consultants. There is equity in the expertise of everybody in this room. They’re still buying expertise and that part of our model will never go away.
Stephanie Kruse: Marketers have to be aware of what’s coming down the track with digital and ethics. The facebook bellyflops [have] really started to point at marketers using data in that grey area and people are now suspicious of marketing that way. Every time you get a retargeting ad, somebody’s eyebrows go up and [they] go, “How did you get my data?” [It’s the same if someone is] using audience-based data on social media, as opposed to intent. We like intent because it feels cleaner than trying to figure out demographic elements and going after people that way.
What impact do out-of-state agencies have on Nevada?
Kruse: I think it’s a little bit more of an issue in Northern Nevada [but there are] out of state agencies that have come in and really taken a lot of large accounts. They have this romantic aura around them so everybody jumps over to them. It really is kind of like, “Ok, well they’re from out of state [so] they have to be better than a Nevada agency.” I think it’s a[n] out-of-state-consultant “dreamboat” kind of feel to it and it is impacting a lot of agencies in Northern Nevada. One agency, run by a friend of ours, just closed mainly because of some of the loss of business in state.
Draper: I think it shows a dynamic. The difference in Reno and Vegas [is that] Reno, quite frankly, is insecure about itself. I mean that lovingly towards my hometown but it’s insecure about itself whereas Vegas is very secure with where it’s at. A lot of those state accounts are being decided on by people up north. [We] are very insecure about what our place is, not only in our state, but in the country. You see a firm come in from LA or from Chicago and they jump [at it] and say, “Well they’ve got to be amazing, right? The fact that they pay attention to us [means] that’s where we’ve got to go.” I think that’s become really out of hand over the last year or two.
Kruse: That’s a good point. There’s definitely a difference in Northern Nevada. In Southern Nevada, there is a lot more confidence and a big pool of talent that everybody can see but Northern Nevada is definitely going through a crisis of confidence.
Is there still a place for traditional marketing in today’s climate?
Paul Stowell: I still see a real value in the traditional media side. At the end of last year, we switched agencies. We went to a much bigger, more digitally-based agency. They’re trying to push us more and more to the digital forefront. But in Nevada, I feel like there’s still that traditional element. If you can get very targeted with traditional media, it can be just as powerful as the digital or social side.
Kruse: I am in love with digital. I have many young people who work for me that are excellent at it, but it can’t be digital only. You have to have other means of generating reasons why somebody would know who you are and why they would even want to consider you when you came up in a search or a retargeting ad on a website. There’s so many more aspects of it and I don’t think we can forget all the rest of the things that we do everyday to influence how people react to your brand when they do finally see it.
Holly Silvestri: We have a lot of clients that still appreciate the traditional media and digital marketing. We’re finding that, instead of just having media meetings, we’re having influencer and blogger events. We’re doing a lot of community relations and implementing grassroots strategies because they want to hit the audience directly and they want to express their voices.
Ouchida: As marketers, bridging that gap between traditional and digital is the riddle of personalization during the era of automation. Our audiences are forever evolving. The millenial generation [has] unique experiences they want that are customized with some level of control. Their level of spend is increasing more and their level of responsibility is actually increasing more. Traditional does have its place but if you look at overall budgets, it’s probably in the 70/30 split now [with the] emphasis on digital.
Darcy Neighbors: I think we lose humanity in that. The consumer, 100 percent is in control and we are trying to figure out what that looks like to them and how we’re going to create human moments for people. It’s been fascinating to be in this as a career for all these years to see the evolution of where we are now, but I do see a pendulum. We’re swinging back. We are having clients who are pulling dollars back from digital and going back into some more traditional stuff. So, I do think we are going to have an even out. We’re at a 70/30 now (digital) but I think we’re coming back where we’re at 50/50.
Draper: There’s a premium like never before on brands that are sincere and self aware; that are relatable. It’s much easier to come across as sincere and relatable and all those things through social media. I think that’s an opportunity. There’s clearly a place for traditional media. We have lots of clients that still want traditional media but not everyone can go figure out how to be sincere, relatable and honest through a full-page ad in a magazine or a television campaign whereas everyone thinks they can do that on Facebook or Instagram. They can’t, but a lot of those in-house people they’re bringing in are young kids who think that they know what to do. The people in this room are the people that can help clients be effective in traditional media and come across with all the values that consumers are really placing at a premium right now.
McLean: In the age of digital, everyone got so excited about it and it was sort of like this machine-gun approach. The value of brand equity took a backseat. Now I’m seeing marketers are becoming much more nimble. We’re much more agile. We’re reducing some of our digital tools, getting very deliberate about how a campaign worked. We’re looking at the data, responding to it and then focusing on customer experience so that the brand equity is there along with messaging.
Kruse: Certain industries, especially where they want to know you and trust you [are] never going to be rid of the things that we all know we do well: PR, community relations, influencer relations, grassroots, outreach, sponsorships.
How do you go about managing client expectations?
Quillin: From the very beginning. From that very first meeting, I’ve found if you don’t train your client at that point on what is a realistic expectation, they’ll never change. It’s hard for us. Clients want everything and they want it tomorrow so we spend a lot of time developing our clients to understand what they can expect.
Rouff: It’s ongoing. We set the expectations and then two weeks later they’ve forgotten and they’re impatient again because it’s been two weeks.
Elizabeth Trosper: It is important to have an honest conversation. We qualify our clients. Before we have a client come on board, we make sure that they’re going to be able to work with us and have manageable expectations from the get go. We know our client is good. They trust us so when I have a conversation and tell them, “You know what, this is unrealistic. Don’t do this. This is a bad idea.”
Quillin: Someone else is in their ear and says, “We could do a website in a week.”
McLean: Everyone’s got a neighbor who just designed their own website and it was free. That’s the challenge [but] there will always be a place—especially as the pendulum swings back—for the expertise and the understanding of how to optimize that website. It’s not just the website. There’s so much more to it. It’s [about] communicating that value early and often.
How does retainer-based pricing differ from job-based pricing?
Draper: When clients have us on retainer, typically we feel more like we’re their partner. If it’s hourly, we’re not allowed the [same] opportunity. When clients look at us as a partner, or let us have the opportunity to be a partner, then we’re more successful and they’re more successful. That commitment both ways is shown through a retainer relationship so we try and stick exclusively to retainers. Everybody says that they work best as a partner. It seems like a lot of young professionals in this industry now forget that. They fall so in love with what they’re doing they forget the goal. I sat in a meeting with somebody and they were talking about all the return on investment they got on their marketing dollars and all the eyes that had seen “this.” It was [for] a housing development and they hadn’t sold a single house. This was the fifth or sixth meeting. It was really eye opening.
Neighbors: I would say 80 percent of our client base is still on a substantial retainer but we serve [as an] almost in-house marketing department that’s outsourced. We have fewer clients but [they are] much more engaged and involved. Those are the type of clients that I enjoy working with because you can really become strategic with them. We start every relationship with a strategic marketing summit, and they pay for that. At that point, we know if it’s a good fit or not. There’s a trust level and they can see that we look at things from a strategic standpoint. We’ll do some project work but for the most part, it’s a retainer-based system.
Silvestri: We’re almost 100 percent retainer. I think it’s really hard to be proactive and strategic when you’re not on retainer. Every month, you know you’re dedicated to that client. You’re doing your research, you’re strategizing, you’re coming up with your messaging and the avenues for reaching their audiences. Just doing hourly work is really challenging to get the work done and to do it right.
Is client exclusivity viable within the industry?
Neighbors: We definitely have exclusives with some of our clients. If it’s a large enough retainer, we will 100 percent offer exclusive. If that changes, then the conversation changes and we modify that if we need to.
Kruse: We only have one entity per category per geographical market. We could never handle two hospitals. Neither one would trust us to know that we’re devoting our true brainpower, strength and relationships to them. It really raises questions in your clients mind if you have two in a category and they’re definitely competitors. It makes it tough and it feels wrong for me.
Draper: I think if you want to be viewed as a partner and not a vendor, you have to walk the walk and earn that respect.
What opportunities do you see on the horizon?
Merrell Virgen: It does seem like an exciting time right now. I notice a huge influx of out of town talent.
Quillin: I think an emerging industry here that’s evolved a lot since I’ve got into business [is] non-profits. I think most of us here handle non-profits but non-profits now realize that they need to pay if they’re gonna get the attention and the expertise they need to separate themselves in this world. [They] aren’t going anywhere. They’re growing. Somebody referenced having a social conscience with whatever product that you do or brand that you sell. I believe it’s becoming more profitable and important.
Ouchida: There’s a niche: “Cause marketing.” I think that was a term that was coined a couple of years back. As you’ve seen these legacy non-profits, there’s nothing “non” about the profitability of that particular organization and yet, they still need similar disciplines to apply in the marketing space.
Virgen: It seems like every industry has an opportunity. It’s important to have an individual internally to manage marketing. Even the large casino conglomerates, if they handle a lot, still [have] things that the in-house cannot do. We look to the different aspects of the content and channels that they may handle internally [while] providing them with creative messaging from a content marketing standpoint. That seems to be across the board a welcome partnership for industries.