The best clients let their agencies make the magic happen

Influential brands take the reins off their agencies to let them quickly make content that keeps customers engaged, members of a panel of top marketers said Tuesday morning in Cannes.

CANNES, FRANCE: The most successful brands cede control, allowing their agencies — whether advertising, PR, media buying, or digital — to take the creative reins and work closely together, marketing experts said Tuesday at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Doing this allows marketers to launch campaigns within days, rather than months, that keep their customers engaged and their brands relevant, according to remarks made by industry leaders at the Complete Control Meets Mass Disruption panel held Tuesday in the Haymarket Hive.

"We can’t control everything," said Tim Ellis, EVP and CMO at Activision. "You have to allow your partners to express your brand."

The panel featured Ellis; 72andSunny chief strategy officer Matt Jarvis; Summer Anne Burton, executive creative producer at BuzzFeed; and Aaron Kwittken, global chairman and CEO at Kwittken. It was moderated by PRWeek U.S. editor-in-chief and editorial director for PRWeek Global Steve Barrett.

"There are very few brands and very few campaigns that can hold one media cycle, let alone two media cycles," Jarvis said. "Pace is the key variable."

Activision, the maker of best-selling video games such as the Call of Duty series, is one example of a client that has evolved the way it works with its agencies, including 72andSunny and Kwittken, both of which are owned by MDC Partners.

That evolution was driven, in part, by changes to the business. Rather than market one new version of Call of Duty each year, Activision sells throughout the course of the year, which calls for a steady stream of engagement with its customers rather than big spending on one TV commercial.

As such, its agencies are tasked with collaborating, often without Activision in the room.

"It’s integrated on the way in the door," Jarvis noted. "Part of the new world…is enabled by a loosening of control between the agencies."

And the in-house PR and social teams work together, with plans to bring in analytics and customer service under the same umbrella.

"You can’t tell a difference anymore between the PR and social marketing teams," Ellis said.

Still, Kwittken is focused on its role as a brand activator despite its PR roots — its CEO recommended retiring the term "PR" in favor of other monikers — as it competes with a wide range of types of agencies and companies, including market research firm Forrester Research and media publishers.

"We try not to do programming around gut and instinct," he added. "Everything needs to be data driven."

But data isn’t the only factor that makes great marketing, the panelists said. Speed and agility matter, too, especially as the content, format, platform, and device are evolving. 72andSunny once launched a TV ad for Samsung within 48 hours that was timed to follow an Apple announcement.

"The thing about speed is the most defining characteristic at this time is that nothing stays the same," Burton said.

BuzzFeed, which operates both like an agency and a media company, looks to its audience, rather than internal ideas, to drive its strategy. Tasty, its speedy food video series on Facebook, had nearly 60 million fans as of March.

"We’re not in love with our ideas," Burton said. "We’re obsessed with our audience."

As for the traditionalists who argue that the work needs time to be finessed and perfected, Kwittken disagrees.

"Clients need cheeseburgers, not filet mignon," he said.

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