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Michael Lee of Madam: why more marketers now want their agencies to be producers too

benstuart_main.png“I want to get closer to people who make stuff, not people who know people who make stuff,” is a comment from a conversation I had with Ben Stuart (left), CMO at Surescripts, previously at American Express and Charles Schwab. “We need to be faster into market with ideas. We need to make great stuff that our consumers will love, and get it out quickly.” The conversation sounded like another threat to the traditional ad agency model and well worth looking further into.

A little background first: For years, marketers would go to ad agencies for ideas, the agencies would come back with said ideas, and once given the go-ahead, would wander back to the agency, pop open the Rolodex, and see who best to make the stuff that they’d just presented to their client — the filmmakers, musicians, animators, photographers and other creative talent to bring that idea to life.

Now, of course, the explosion of social media, online content and brand experiences has encouraged marketers to think and act very differently.

A brand’s content on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine and Snapchat doesn’t get created on its own. Marketers aren’t waiting around for agencies to introduce them to talent and the content to fill all these channels; they’re going out and finding it themselves.

Sounds wonderfully exciting if you’re a marketer, but another headache to worry about if you’re an agency.

I spoke with two companies, RadicalMedia and BKLYN1834, who are working in very different ways with clients on making films and music and creating brand experiences to share with their consumers.

I also spoke with two established ad agencies, Deutsch LA and The Martin Agency, to find out what they’re doing about this move onto their traditional turf.

RadicalMedia has produced some of the best TV work like Dos Equis’ ‘Most Interesting Man’ campaign, co-produced content series like Iconoclasts with Grey Goose and even produced the ‘Concert for George’ with Eric Clapton to celebrate the life of George Harrison.

“The recent phenomenon of clients going directly to production companies has been building for a while,” commented Jon Kamen, chairman and CEO of RadicalMedia, believing it was because of the “growth of the internalization of marketing.”

Simply put, marketers are controlling the destiny of their brands in ways they never have before, they are becoming more confident in their own creative choices and “they are now very good brand shepherds,” as Jon so aptly put it.

A very different type of production company or new media company attracting the attention of clients is the very new BKLYN1834. The company, launched in March this year at SXSW, and named for both the year Brooklyn was registered as a city and the 18-34 age group they speak to, is fast building a reputation for getting to that hard-to-reach audience.

BKLYN1834, housed in ‘Industry City, Brooklyn,’ an ultra-hip complex for fledgling companies to develop, is a highly collaborative group of photographers, filmmakers, musicians and animators who are all part of the elusive millennial audience themselves.

Andrew Reid, BKLYN1834 creative director, says: “We are the audience. We are the artists. We are the influencers in fashion, art and design who inspire trends. We are the actual point of the trend.” Quite a claim for such a young company, but having a group like this, being one with the millennial culture, is a very powerful tool for a brand to have in its back pocket.

Six months out they have already worked directly with Converse on its Jack Purcell brand and helped re-invent the old New York Times building on West 43rd, creating content and events with the brief “get the building on the cool map…make people smile.”

Andrew continued: “New technology has made the difference” in reference to extensive broadband availability and high-quality mobile equipment like GoPro, iMovie and Final Cut Pro, giving everyone the tools to put fantastic stuff together, in their own bedrooms.

So what about the agencies? What are agencies doing about another attack on their home turf?

Pete Favat, the CCO of Deutsch LA, says: “We love making stuff; it’s fun, makes us money and attracts a different type of talent and skillset into the agency.”

Under Pete and chief digital officer Winston Binch, Deutsch LA are indeed recruiting a very different type of talent into the agency: developers who are writing code, building prototypes, creating new technologies in robotics, all a long way from recruiting the traditional art directors, writers and planners found in an ad agency.

In their latest campaign for Snapple, the directing, shooting, editing, animating was all done in-house. Pete added “some of the best animators in LA now want to come work at Deutsch LA.”

On the other side of the country, in Richmond, VA, another agency is coming to grips (and having some fun) with the new ‘making stuff’ world.

joe-alexander-hed-2012Joe Alexander (left), CCO of The Martin Agency, says: “We’ve built some great facilities here for our creative people to work with.” It also leads to a change in their hiring policies. Joe added, “We hire people with craft skills: writers who are primarily great writers, but can also work in Final Cut Pro, and TV producers who can handle a camera.”

They define it as their “make it and take it” culture and try as often as possible to present a finished piece to a client rather that a rough idea. Putting their own resources behind an idea also shows to a client the commitment the agency has to an idea: “If we put our heart, soul, talents, our craft into it, it endears us to clients. We become more partners than vendors.”

Well, it certainly feels like this is a trend that isn’t going to slow down soon. Brands are taking more control of their own destiny. Marketers want to get closer to the makers. Technology is enabling high-quality productions to be shot, recorded and animated in tiny rooms in Brooklyn and beyond, and multi-talented young people are making it all happen.

Whether you’re a marketer, an ad agency, a production company or a new media company, it sounds like the perfect marketing storm. But as George Clooney found out in the movie, perfect storms are tricky to navigate.

Who knows where it’s all going – but it’s certainly a trend worth keeping a close eye on.

This article first appeared in Forbes.

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About Michael Lee

Michael Lee
Michael Lee is a former ECD of Euro RSCG New York handling Volvo Worldwide. Born in England, he spent 20 years working on integrated accounts including Intel, JP Morgan, ExxonMobil and Jaguar. In 2012 he set up agency search consultancy Madam.
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