Monday, April 28th, 2008

Talking “digital” with Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts

Talking “digital” with Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts
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Readers of ideasonideas are well aware of my bullish stance on digital and how I often reference large agencies as rather out of touch. This doesn’t mean I’m against the big guys (heck, I’d love to work in those neat offices with great views). I just feel as though we’re in the midst of a change that is completely rearranging this space and will result in extinction for a few.

None of this is particularly “cutting edge” thinking; nevertheless, it’s certainly anathema to many traditional agencies. That’s why I found this Business Week article with Kevin Roberts so fascinating. Here’s a fellow ensconced in the agency world; nevertheless, he’s willing to scrap it, acknowledge their weaknesses, and embrace some risky thinking in a bid to remain relevant. I couldn’t resist asking him to join us for a few questions.

Eric: I first became interested in your efforts when I read about how candidly you sought to embrace digital media, particularly in making a play to purchase Blast Radius. Can you tell me more about your focus on digital?

Kevin: Digital has accelerated the power shift to the consumer. Consumers are increasingly on screen and on the go, and to connect with them brands need to be where they want, when they want with “sisomo”, sight, sound and motion people love. All media will be interactive and all agencies need digital capability to stay connected.

Eric: The acquisition of Blast Radius didn’t turn out as you had hoped. Are there other groups you have, or are looking to add to fill-out this end of the Saatchi offering?

Kevin: I loved Gurval and Blast… but we couldn’t afford them!!! We’re looking to become truly and totally digital through a combo of recruitment, training and acquisition.

Eric: With the rapid changes occurring in today’s media space, do you believe there will be room for traditional agencies in ten years time?

Kevin: No. “Traditional” anything will be under threat. Progressive ideas-driven, consumer-focused digital communication agencies will thrive.

Eric: How are you adapting Saatchi to deal with this new landscape?

Kevin: In some ways its business as usual, but we have a richer palette to embrace consumers with. The big shift is from directors to connectors. We’re expanding tools, technologies and teams to get closer to consumers on the terms they want. The challenge is to be connected and connecting. To stay relevant, it’s necessary to hire diverse people with diverse skills. We employ everyone from technologists through to anthropologists.

Eric: What new areas do you think hold the most promise for marketers?

Kevin: There’s a huge opportunity in the store. More than 70% of purchase decisions are made in store. Most stores are a nightmarish experience, devoid of mystery, sensuality and intimacy. They are set up by product category rather than consumer experience, with limited screen properties. Look at what Apple have achieved with their retail stores since opening in 2001.

Eric: What campaigns do you think best illustrate Saatchi’s efforts in the new media or social media space?

Kevin: Some stand outs are Toyota Yaris (L.A.), Quicksilver `Dynamite Surfing‘ (Denmark), Telecom NZ `Rubbish Films Festival‘ and Wellington Zoo mobile 3D Holographic animals (New Zealand), Lexus Times Square, Wii/Tennis Open, and Ritz-Carlton web movies (Team One). And Toyota’s recent campaign on YouTube.

Eric: Are you at all growing tired of all the discussing surrounding digital? Do you feel that we’re over hyping this?

Kevin: This is one of the most exciting times in connectivity, full of new creative opportunities and new ways to connect with the consumer. The technology has liberated us. But it’s the idea that’ll make the difference.

Eric: What kind of dialogue exists at Saatchi around digital? Are there some who find it a bother?

Kevin: The positive kind. I hope not.

Eric: What kind of experiments are you running in interactive? Are there areas that you are testing with greater success than others?

Kevin: Our whole approach is pretty much one big experiment at this stage. There’s no proven pathway (Thank God!!!).

Eric: Who are you looking at? Are there any companies that you see in the marketplace, who’ve redefined it?

Kevin: The consumer has.

Eric: There seems to be a bit of fantasy attached to digital campaigns, and as a result, we’ve found that some believe that it’s easy to make a campaign “go viral”. What misconceptions about this channel do you find most challenging?

Kevin: If the idea is great and the execution stands up, and it touches on emotion, it’ll go viral. Overnight.

Eric: What’s the sense like amongst your clients? Are they racing to embrace these new tools, or are you finding them more cautious?

Kevin: They’re emotionally engaged and rationally careful. But … they’re becoming less cautious as they see the benefits of keeping up with consumers. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Eric: It seems to me that traditional advertising was easier to charge for. You had the billable creative time, coupled with a percentage of the ad buy. How do you adapt this to the new media model?

Kevin: The only point of advertising is to sell more stuff. Advertising should be paid for in line with sales results. As creativity grows more important, ideas will be inextricably linked to the clients’ bottom-line.

Eric: A few years ago, I spoke with Frank Palmer from DDB, who verbalized an interest in testing new methods of selling creative services. I don’t know if they played with this more, but groups like Anomaly and Fuel are working with unique licensing arrangements and partnering with their clients on efforts. I’m curious as to your thoughts on this. Would you mind sharing them?

Kevin: P&G has the best system. We’re paid a royalty on sales. The more P&G sells, the more we make. Perfect.

Eric: Kick-ass; thanks for your time and great responses!

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Comments & Trackbacks

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  2. Toby says:

    Great interview. It's nice to hear a Big Ad Guy take to heart that the consumer is defining the market place (and I assume he also means the brand.) By the way thanks for the links to the campaigns.

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  7. Craig Hooper says:

    Great interview Eric, well done.

    I enjoy observing the rapidly-changing landscape of the ad industry—I find it truly fascinating, and stuff like this is always informative.

    Don Draper would be proud (if he existed)...

  8. Leigh says:

    Can't disagree with some of what Kevin has to say but (everyone is an arm chair critic on the Web eh?).....

    IMO focusing on "the big idea" is big agency traditional thinking. Network thinking is the way to go....companies that say "we are about ideas we aren't about media" (i.e. we are media agnostic) usually end up coming up with a mass media idea that they put online and hope it goes viral (if i see one more fictional character creative idea who then has a tV commercial on youtube, twitter account, and a blog, i'm going to lose the plot).

    The change has to be more fundamental than that.

  9. Pixoloo says:

    "Readers of ideasonideas are well aware of my bullish stance on digital and how I often reference large agencies as rather out of touch"

    Amen to that. There are few large agencies that truely get it.

    The power of small agencies is the ability to become highly specialised in a particular field and capitalise on their relationships with other digital marketing agencies who are also experts in what they do. Something like what they describe here -

    Hiring one company that understands the global strategy or which is able to consult with other companies who are experts in another field allows for better planning and execution, while large companies are largely limited to internal resources. Small will always be powerful in unison.

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