If you aren’t in the advertising industry, you might think that the world of marketing and communications still looks like the one shown on the popular cable television show, “Mad Men” — glamorously dressed men and women making deals over three-martini expense account dinners and working for large agencies with dozens of employees.
Those days are gone, says Ed McLaughlin of SVM E-Marketing in Somerset. An agency no longer needs to have dozens of employees and a beautiful office setting to impress and woo a client. “We used to use our offices as a showcase for our talents,” he says. “An advertising agency needed a beautiful, creative office to say ‘see how creative we are?’ These days, it’s likely we will never even meet our clients in person.”
There is no way to put your finger on one main reason for the changes that have taken place in the marketing and communications industry in the past decade. The rise of the Internet has led to different types of marketing, which has in turn led to different types of agencies. The economy has led to downsizing at many larger agencies, and of course, new technology has changed the way we work.
McLaughlin will be part of a three-person panel exploring the “New Tools and Environments for Creative Professionals” at the NJ Communications, Advertising, and Marketing Association on Tuesday, January 10, at 6 p.m. at D&R Greenway, Johnson Education Center, One Preservation Place. Cost: $35 non-members. Visit www.NJCAMA.org.
The panel will focus on new tools and technologies that are changing the way agencies and freelancers approach creative work and deliver results to their clients. The panel will be moderated by Matt Kulcsar, interactive designer at Creative Marketing Alliance on Clarksville Road. Brian Crooks, executive creative director at Influence Interactive, an online agency, and McLaughlin will be the speakers.
Crooks, formerly the creative director at Razorfish, is a 20-year campaign design veteran who has created interactive media campaigns for Nestle, Dove, Sallie Mae, Neiman Marcus, and General Motors. He will discuss how the need for creative professionals to be “free to think and have access to the information that drives original thoughts,” and the “convergence of the physical and digital – the space in which ideas can percolate and where information, observation, and insights are the coin of the realm.”
McLaughlin will discuss his concept of the “distributed agency,” a term he uses to describe the shift from physical environments to digital work spaces and how to use Internet-based tools to do collaborative, creative work.
McLaughlin studied computer science at Temple University in the early 1990s but left before completing his senior year. He began his career working for several different companies as a software engineer and computer programmer, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was director of IT. Yet he found himself drawn more to the creative side of business than the technical.
He co-founded SVM E-Marketing in 1995 to “help industrial marketers leverage the web to generate sales leads, strengthen relationships with customers, and measure the return on marketing investments,” he says. He has executed countless online marketing initiatives with organizations, from Fortune 500 companies to non-profits.
The shift to online marketing. “If you are in the marketing business today, you are, by default, an online marketer, whether you want to be or not,” says McLaughlin. These days consumers consistently check out products, services, and brands online before making a decision to buy.
This means that every company, no matter how large or small, no matter what product or service, must use online marketing as part of its strategy for reaching the customer. And, McLaughlin adds, that means much more than just having a website to showcase your business, as it did just a few years ago.
“The higher the price point, the longer the consumer thinks about the purchase before making it,” he says. For many large-ticket items the lead time between beginning to research a product and purchasing it is as much as 12 months. “This means that the challenge for creatives is how to help a company not just explain its product, but to become part of the conversation about it, through video, through social media, and through images and text. Our clients expect us to help them adapt and choose from a host of media choices that didn’t even exist three years ago.”
To make it even more challenging, today’s choices may not be relevant three years from now. The podcast, for example, was the hot new way to market just a few years ago. While not exactly obsolete, it has moved to the background as other, newer techniques have overshadowed it.
The new challenge. “How to create the message and disseminate it is no longer the challenge,” says McLaughlin. “Today’s challenge is to capture the conversation — to find out who is talking, how they are conversing, and make ourselves part of that conversation.”
It is, he adds, a very different skill from “pitching a reporter” a story idea, or even just disseminating the information. Truly capturing the conversation for a client these days takes a wide variety of skills and “is beyond the reach of most small agencies.”
But that does not mean that the small agency — even if it is as small as one person — cannot compete. In fact, according to McLaughlin, the small agency is in a unique position to compete more effectively for a large marketing campaign. “The antidote is not more people, it is more technology,” he says.
Changing technology equals changing work structure. “A few years ago technology changed the way creatives produced our products,” McLaughlin says. Graphic arts, for example, changed from a field in which the artist primarily drew by hand to one in which he created on a computer.
But today technology is changing not just the way we produce the product, but the way we work and collaborate with others, the way we find our customers, and the way we work and relate with creative professionals and customers.
“No one can know it all anymore,” McLaughlin says. “Each person or agency needs to choose a core competency — the one area where they will excel,” says McLaughlin. But that does not mean that they can only offer a client one part of a whole marketing package. No client wants to work with one agency for social media, another for graphic arts, a third for branding strategies, and others for website development, analytics, and media planning and buying.
Instead, each marketing agency or professional needs to develop a network of other agencies and professionals with expertise in each of these areas.
The distributed agency. Tools such as GoToMeeting.com, Joinme.com, Skype, Dropbox, and Basecamp.com enable people to easily and in real time collaborate with co-workers and clients all over the world. “We no longer need to have all of the services in-house. We can pick the right brain power to work on a particular project,” McLaughlin says. To do this, the creative professional no longer can be “just a graphic artist,” or “just a marketing analyst.” Now she must become a “creative technologist,” says McLaughlin.
This person is not an expert in each of the various technologies, but instead “knows how the technology works, understands what the client needs and can bring together the right set of people to make it happen, make it work and make it look great,” he says.