A cross-pollination of insights from NJ Ad Club’s 2017 State of the Advertising Industry Panel – featuring R/GA, Dunkin’, Nickelodeon and VaynerMedia.


You really couldn’t ask for a better panel for a 2017 outlook discussion. The NJ Ad Club’s panel was lively and their views were all over the place. The candid descriptions of the ways their outfits are operating and the projects and mindsets driving them were pure gold. Bunch of people at the top of the game, kind of telling it like it is. What more could you ask for? I’ve provided a wrap-up of the key points and opinions shared. (Scroll down if you want to get right to the good stuff.) Here’s a little context on the panel.

Starting with Irene Chang Britt who is the consummate client and marketer. She currently sits on a bunch of boards for big companies—Dunkin’ Brands being the largest—but in a past life ran the marketing for brands like Pepperidge Farms’ Goldfish and clearly was a close collaborator with the people on her agency teams. She had an enlightening take on the qualities and capabilities agencies need to bring to the table now—not what you’d expect in today’s world.

Dave Edwards represented R/GA, the foremost creative agency today. Per Dave, R/GA reinvents itself every 9 years. I think it’s more like every single year. They innovate, they change, they test creative boundaries, and Dave was very candid about what they’ve learned from the experience. If I hadn’t just witnessed Trump being elected, I’d say these guys were running the world.

There’s no agency like VaynerMedia. One of the things their COO, James Orsini, explained to Wednesday’s audience was that Gary Vaynerchuk, the agency’s always-on leader, believes there is no distinction between social and the Internet. It’s all one and the same. Also, in this day, each and every one of us is a broadcaster and personal media outlet. That sounds wacked, doesn’t it? But to do the things they do, grow the way they’ve grown and just reinvent the game as they go along…I think you have to be plain wacked. James told us come pretty cool stuff.

Hafeez Saheed, Head of Production at Nickelodeon Creative Advertising, demonstrated the potential of a nimble, versatile and entrepreneurial in-house creative Seal Team like Nickelodeon’s. In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk among marketers and leaders of in-house agencies about the chargeback model, where in-house agencies restructure to become profit centers. Hafeez’s outfit provides a stellar example of how that might work. Legacy brands like Popsicle that have gone dormant have been special beneficiaries of their work.

The four panelists’ diverse viewpoints took the discussion in flurry of directions. Key insights seemed to be flying in every direction. Here are my takeaways from what they said:

Stop whining about ad-blocking already. “Produce better content” was the consensus from the people in the high chairs. James Orsini said that today’s short attention-span set will willingly and wantonly watch 3-minute sponsored videos if they’re good enough. User-created advertising is block-proof advertising, according to Irene Chang Britt. She gave the example of a campaign she led for Pepperidge Farms’ Goldfish that was based on goldfish-inspired stories submitted by consumers. The campaign ran for 7 years. She never worried about ad blocking because, “they’d be blocking their own stories.”

Agencies bringing clients in-house. Through an accelerator program hosted on their properties, R/GA is attracting clients like never before. Their 3-month mentoring program for startups takes 10 at a time. Part of the arrangement is that R/GA receives an equity stake in the companies, which number 70 at this point.

And vice-versa. R/GA is also taking on a deeper consulting role with established companies. Through their Business Transformation arm, they go deep with the C-Suite much like a McKinsey or Deloitte would, “To help companies with what is their biggest struggle, how they innovate,” per agency founder Bob Greenberg.

Gary Vaynerchuk is going to get you hooked on cool free stuff then figure out a way to monetize it. You already knew this, right? But did you ever wonder what really makes people pay for something they were previously getting for free? VaynerMedia’s James Orsini gave three reasons:

  1. Velvet ropes
  2. Better experience
  3. The opportunity to co-create the content

Skip the shiny objects, agencies. That advice from Irene Chang Britt who advises agencies to bring consumer insight and understanding to the table, not shallow stunts, technology tricks and clever-for-the-sake-of-being-clever work. When pressed by an audience member, Irene explained she doesn’t expect agency partners to bring data. Rather, a deeper understanding of her consumer’s passion-points, who they really are and how best to reach them.

Who’s embedding in the flyover states? VaynerMedia, that’s who. They just opened an office in Chattanooga, TN. They moved dozens of creative people from their NYC offices to staff it. James Orsini said their reasoning was simple, “Most of the consumers are in Middle America.”

The TV spot still matters. You’d think that VaynerMedia, gods of all things social, would distain the 15 and 30-second TV spot. Not Orsini. In fact, he thought a recent client made a big mistake betting it all on social video. Sure, they saved on media, but their messages were hidden from a core client segment.

Because, yes, people still watch TV. That from our R/GA panelist, Dave Edwards, who believes more people are watching more TV than ever. For proof, he cited the popularity of shows like the Crown, and coming enhancements by Nielsen that expand consumer tracking beyond the cable box.

Improvements in programmatic will continue to sharpen effectiveness (and creepiness.) Don’t worry, or do worry, Dave Edwards assures us Facebook and Alexa will make sure we get the right ads for the things we want.

Depth beats reach. Getting a few white bread consumers (hopefully influencers) to engage deeply and passionately about your brand of bread and their favorite sandwich is way more valuable than spraying your message out to the masses, according to Irene Chang Britt. An authentic brand story supported by a social campaign that engages the passionate few goes a long way today.

The irrefutable advantage of bringing the studio inside. VaynerMedia’s new partnership with Vimeo gives Vayner access to over 4,000 award-winning directors. The relationship gives them a huge advantage in creating episodic work for clients and in reducing the hurdles and time it takes to create campaigns. In contrast, R/GA started in film production and grew from there. The integrated full stack of production, media and creative that gives R/GA their advantage today has been evolving for decades. According to Dave Edwards, this fusion of services enables them to succeed on high-speed creative projects like one they did for Beats after the VMAs several years ago.

Clients want one-stop shops but…With so many service providers and specialties to manage, marketers appreciate working with a big AOR that spares them from managing relationships. Irene Chang Britt questions whether companies are receiving the most innovative work under such arrangements. She explained that the way agencies grow to become 1-stop shops offering traditional, digital, social, etc. is by buying smaller agencies that specialize in those disciplines. The problem is that they don’t always buy companies at the top of the game, often settling for a #2 or 3.

Trend: publishers want to get into the agency space. And you thought it was the other way around. That according to James Orsini.

Facebook is for Boomers. As they retire, they have lots of time to figure things out. Irene Chang Britt believes it’s an ideal way for grandparents to follow their grandkids.

The agency model is still the one to beat. “Agencies bring more to clients by cross-pollinating ideas,” Irene Chang Britt said. Largely because they work in multiple industries.

Leveraging little events to reach large audiences. James Orsini said that VaynerMedia is injecting influencers into 2,000-person conferences with the real payback of reaching millions through the compelling content produced.

Predictive and R/GA’s AdWords hack. Those darn AdWords can get so expensive these days. Dave Edwards said that for client McCormick Spices, rather than throwing down for pricey picks like “food,” “spice,” “seasoning” or “cooking”, they just bought “Ryan Gosling.” For many women, I guess they’re sort of the same thing.

Enough already. Speaking of predictive, Dave Edwards hopes they come up with an “Okay, I bought that” button on banner ads that cookie you mercilessly long after your searched for that 5-pack of printer ink, Disney package or whatever.

Interested in attending the New Jersey Ad Club’s next event? Look here. And be sure and check out upcoming events from the New Jersey Art Directors Club while you’re at it.