Tech, talent and creeping competition: The pace of change

The latest Media in Canada roundtable brought media agency leads and brand execs together to discuss change and competition in the industry.


Above: The CFL’s Christina Litz, Mindshare’s Devon MacDonald, SickKids’ Lori Davison and Andrew Saunders from the Globe and Mail at the strategy/Media in Canada roundtable.

This article appears in the October 2017 issue of strategy.

By Val Maloney and Bree Rody-Mantha

Consumers are more complicated than ever. There never seems to be enough talent, or at least the right kind. And, oh yeah, consultancies are staking a claim to traditional agency territory.

There is no shortage of issues when media agency leads and brand execs congregate to talk about change and competition. The latest strategy/Media in Canada roundtable was no exception. Joining MiC for the roundtable were Cathy Collier, CEO at OMD Canada, Robert Jenkyn, EVP at Media Experts, Joseph Leon, president of media at Vision7 Communications, Devon MacDonald, CSO, Mindshare Canada and marketing side partners Lori Davison, VP of brand, strategy and communications at Sick Kids Foundation, Christina Litz, SVP of marketing and content at the CFL and John Rocco, VP of marketing at Sonnet.

Strategy: What tool or process has your agency been flexing hard in 2017?

Joseph Leon: One area that’s becoming a much greater focus for us is the infrastructure around technology. So, things like cloud computing and machine-learning. All of those more complex, behind-the-scenes pieces that involve a very significant capital investment, a very different set of skills — that’s where we’re seeing a lot of our focus in 2017 shift.

It’s interesting because if you think about all the people at this table, whether you’re an agency or you’re a business, that’s not necessarily something that’s a fundamental part of our team skillset. As we’re enabling that change and figuring out the opportunity from a media perspective, it’s also providing a bit of impetus to look at the skillset to maximize potential. If I was going to say one thing, 2017 is a focus on infrastructure, the backside of technology and the data.

robertJenkyn2Robert Jenkyn: We’re really investing in people and culture as well as that back-end infrastructure. For a couple reasons: One, everything is digital all the time. I get that, but it’s evolving so fast that change is the new normal. What we’re finding now is that, to keep sticky with our clients, we really have to solve that problem of “What part of my advertising is working?” That seemed to be the big driver over the last couple of years.

Cathy Collier: Most of the technology has been about how it’s influenced the business and not about how it’s impacted consumers lives or our own lives. But I find technology is distracting us from what we should be focusing on, which is clients’ objectives. And I think the shift this year is spending less time with which “bits” fit into which ideas.

Everyone probably saw that the Media Grand Prix [in Cannes,'s "Innovating Saving" campaign] this year was really fueled by an idea. And you didn’t see the bits that came together. You just saw the end-product and how that all resonated from the brand.

I think that’s the biggest thing for me: that we stopped talking about the bits and started talking about the idea and how it’s driving the client’s business.

Lori Davison: And the agency that won that Media Grand Prix was a creative agency?

Collier: I know, so disappointing.

Davison: That speaks to the convergence and overlap that’s going on now. It’s so grey now as to where the ideas come from. Not to get cliché, but the media is the message. The origin of the media is in the idea.

Collier: And it has to be so intermixed. We have to be able to work out the complexity of executing in 20 different channels in different ways. You can’t just have a blocking chart that says you need a TV ad.

Christina Litz: For the most part, the marketing people we have on the team are digital-first and they came to us from various organizations where they were developing products. We have brought a lot of our products in-house, from videogames to apps to geeky things like stats systems that allow us to power new interactions, and we have seen that pay off in a relatively short period of time. And we have to. We don’t have the budgets and reach that some of the international leagues and teams do so we have to think differently, be nimble and try and fail, and fail fast [when we do].

Our investment has been in the type of people we are bringing into the organization who are used to working fast and can be agile and try things. We are inspired and we’re learning a lot by the way our fans are interacting with each other online.

What are media agencies’ biggest challenges and competitors today?

Collier: To be completely honest, the biggest competitors we have now aren’t the people at this table — it’s the consultants.
I think we are really well-poised to go head-to-head, as we’ve been evolving in terms of strategy and thinking and data.

Jenkyn: And they’re moving into our space from the C-suite, so they have a different advantage than we do. And some are coaching their clients to bring everything in-house, which in some instances might be a good idea and for others might not be scalable or feasible for a long time.

So, then, how are you proving your worth as agencies and showing clients that there are some things that shouldn’t be brought in-house?

cathyCollier2Collier: I think it depends on the clients. Every client has a different point on the scale of how much they want in-house, how much they can handle in-house. What we do changes so fast and the scale of what you have to have in terms of the resources — you really have to staff against it.

And in terms of competing with consultants, yes, a lot of them are coming from the C-suite but when we’re comparing model to model, I think we’re really well-stacked against them to have the right conversations.

Jenkyn: I think that piece about scale and staying current is very challenging for a lot of clients, especially larger clients bringing large-scale media shops within their business. They don’t necessarily recognize the expense of the people involved, and I don’t think they often recognize the pace of change.

Devon MacDonald: We have a number of clients who have brought services in-house, and we encourage them to do so. And that trend will continue.

I think there’s a twist that goes back to the consulting relationship — in acting as a consultancy, you’re really just trying to prove the business objectives. I think the fault of most agencies is trying to prove the agencies’ business objectives instead. Whether that’s for billings or staff or media rates or whatever it might have been.

How we measure or monitor ourselves hasn’t changed fast enough to innovative clients. We talk about serving clients’ best needs, but recognize what they are trying to solve. If building a videogame lab is your thing, then great. We’ll help you figure out the right or wrong things to do.

Part two of our media roundtable series will appear in tomorrow’s Media in Canada.


Photos by: Kevin Cordick