Michael Kassan on Review-Mageddon: “That Moment of Absolute Chaos.”


By Connor Zickgraf

Originally Posted on Media Village/MyersBizNet

Addressing a room of media professionals earlier this month at the Advertising Club’s Great Debate 7, Michael Kassan, Chairman and CEO of MediaLink, declared the current state of the advertising industry a “review-maggedon.” With an unprecedented number of agency contracts in review and billions of ad dollars up for grabs, his dispiriting description is certainly an apt one. As Kassan remarked, “We are in that moment of absolute chaos.

“There are four key drivers that impact the way advertisers do business: Programmatic, procurement, transparency and trust,” Kassan continued. “The most important one is trust.”

With new programmatic buying and reporting tech changing the industry, how does trust come into play? Is the agency model broken?Kassan turned to a panel of industry luminaries to tackle the issues that have materialized as disruption transforms agency-client relationships. (The panel is pictured at top. Left to right:  Kassan, Melissa Goidel, Shelley Zalis, Ritu Trivedi, Susan Canavari and Bill Koenigsberg.)

Kassan posed the first question to Bill Koenigsberg, CEO, Founder and President of Horizon: “What does transparency mean to you? What does trust mean to you?”

Koenigsberg stressed full disclosure between client and agency. He said that if both sides are clear about conflicts of interest and how each operates internally there should be no question of trust. “Unconditional reliability between agency and client can build a bond for life,” Koenigsberg concluded.

Shelley Zalis, Chairwoman of TFQ Ventures and Founder of The Girl’s Lounge, weighed in, pointing out the realities of a digital world. “If you think your agency is not sharing info with you, then shame on you, and shame on us as an ecosystem to be tolerating that,” she said. “We live in an open day and age… a world where consumers expect transparency and openness.”

Other panelists were more focused on the importance of talent in building and maintaining trust between client and agency. They questioned whether agencies are truly investing enough in their employees.  While money and cost minimization always influence an advertiser’s decision, relationships are invaluable. “For clients that are basing decisions solely on cost, you will get the results you deserve,” Susan Canavari, Chase’s Chief Brand Officer, warned the crowd.

“Buying junk will show you the impact of buying junk,” Zalis agreed.

But has programmatic and automation diminished the need for top talent? Ritu Trivedi, Vice President, Strategy and Marketing Solutions at AOL made sure to emphasize the past tense in recalling days when agencies invested heavily in talent and training. Trivedi remarked that while the inventory and pipelines are changing, one thing has remained stagnant and desirable: the need for brand stories. “Programmatic can help optimization and efficiency,” she continued, “but not storytelling. Those stories cannot be told by machines.”  If agencies do not invest in talent, Trivedi concluded, they will only foster one-off mindsets among their employees, instead of grooming them for valuable advisory roles.

Acknowledging that advertisers are looking back on times of simpler business models, Melissa Goidel, Chief Revenue Officer at Refinery29, also stressed that clients need an individual agency partner who can serve in a more supportive capacity. “Advisory versus selling is a huge step in changing the conversation about trust,” she asserted.  As an agency, you need to practice discretion and make sure to choose clients who match up with your agency’s values, she added.  According to Goidel, this is a fundamental step to ensuring healthy client-agency relationships and building trust.

To Koenigsberg, however, the most glaring problem is uncertainty. He admitted that we do sometimes confuse trust with uncertainty.  As we transition from old models of business, he asks, “Can I trust my agency to lead me into the future?” That is a question we will likely be asking — and should be asking — as long as the agency model stays intact.

Times of digital disruption only make the answer all the more pressing. As Zalis aptly remarked, “Chaos creates opportunity.”

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