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How agencies must adapt to the new digital landscape

How agencies must adapt to the new digital landscape Becca Bleznak

As content distribution and technology continue to evolve, so must agencies change in order to meet the needs of their clients. As iMedia Agency Summit opening speaker Aimee Reker, principal at Leveret Marketing, said, "We've all been in the ring with change," referring to the weekend's Pacquiao versus Mayweather fight, and explained that we must develop successful tactics for managing this change.

Moderator Michelle Burnham, VP of media activation at HUGE, led the keynote panelists in a discussion regarding the changes that their agencies are experiencing, and what they as leaders must do to guide their teams successfully through this.

David Aglar, EVP of digital at Weber Shandwick, has helped to transition his global PR firm into a closer-knit agency focused on engagement over the last few years. Weber began to rebrand itself as a digital agency in 2011, and Aglar stated that there are three ways in which this transition has come to be.

"The network is a huge advantage for driving collaboration. We collapse departments whenever possible," Aglar said of developing the agency of the future. In order to make this less-structured environment work, "you need to have some infrastructure. The operating system [is] a group of change-makers [who work] to reduce friction between departments," he said.

As a member of this operating system at Weber, Aglar explained one of the most important qualities that a leader most possess: emotional intelligence. "Not only understanding your own issues, but also, how do you empathize with your employees?" he asked. "How do [you] guide this team?"

Broaching the subject of mergers and acquisitions, Keith Pape, VP and managing director of digital engagement at ONE + K, recalled how this has changed since he started his first agency in 1999. "[Then] it was always about purchasing another agency that was like us. What we're finding through the last couple of acquisitions, we've all mastered growing digital -- now we're focusing on buying agencies that have that new expertise, so that we maintain that 360 persona."

Pape also expressed the importance of good leadership in order to guide all departments during acquisitions. "People get really caught up in the dollars -- the financial side of due diligence. If you don't get the team leads involved in an early stage, the entire deal can fall apart regardless of the money if you haven't thought about what are the challenges within your team. In this age, it's absolutely critical to get your teams involved as soon as possible," he said.

Tom Edwards, EVP of digital strategy and innovation at The Marketing Arm, stressed looking to develop horizontally as well as vertically within your agency, and what he viewed as the three most important elements of success: Curation, creation, and education.

"I'm a big believer in content creation, especially at the junior level, and developing their own personal brand," he said. "There needs to be a shift in strategy... bringing value on a transformational level with our clients. [It's about] becoming that digital navigator."

He continued, "Creating meaningful content [is another aspect]. Publishers are becoming a more creative entity. They're providing the insights. [So you ask yourself] what value are you ultimately creating? How can we apply emerging technology into the structure? [It requires] mapping the art and science of what we do to show how we navigate through."

These trends are often seen on the startup and small-scale agency levels, but what about the larger agencies? Aglar stressed that this is a transition anyone can (and should) make. "The biggest difference is smaller agencies are set up as a collaborative effort, [and] we want to adapt that to bigger agencies," he said.

In order to build a more collaborative type of agency that embraces this symbiotic culture, a different hiring process may be in order. ONE + K did away with hiring altogether, instead opting for a "casting call" process that has helped the agency find the candidates who are not only perfect for the job, but who mesh well within the company culture.

"We no longer interview anybody," explained Pape. "We call it a casting call -- here's the job that we have. People that meet a minimum set of requirements, we invite them in. You're going to sign contractor paperwork and we're going to start paying you right away [as part of a] two-week mentorship program. It really becomes a 'survival guide.' Do you fit with the culture, the job style? At any time, you or the mentor can decide it's not right. I've had a 90 percent reduction [in the] number of staff that leaves in the first year. You're learning as you go -- there aren't these questions of, 'do I have to fake it in the interview process?' It's been hugely successful for us."

When it comes to finding these talented recruits to help propel your agency forward, Edwards recommended thinking outside of the box. He said, "I look at third-party publishers; I look at vendors. You look for talent in different ways. We're always looking for what's that plus one in that individual? What else are you bringing in addition to your daily responsibilities?"

Clients are also hiring new, fresh talent, and some of them come equipped with industry knowledge that allow them to bring more digital responsibilities in-house. So should agencies worry about losing their business? All three panelists said that this is actually a positive step. Pape elaborated, "If anything else -- when we're speaking specifics, we now have a champion to say "this is important, [and] this is why.""

Becca Bleznak is an associate editor at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Becca is currently an editor at iMedia Connection, as well as a freelance entertainment writer for ScreenPicks.com and The Televixen. In the past, she has worked as a social media/community manager at SEO Savvy, Empower Digital, and Mahalo. ...

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