LBB speaks with OLIVER, WPP Black Ops, &FRIENDS and Crowdiate to explore what’s driving the industry to reframe the way it works with talent
2021 ushered in a new era for creative talent - one with flexibility and nimbleness at its core. With brands calling for more and more specialist expertise, they require the specialist talent to match. In this fluid landscape, the rigid confines and slow movement of traditional advertising is no longer cutting it. In its place, we’re witnessing the emergence of a number of new models, each pushing to reshape the way in which brands engage creative talent.
In-housing is on the rise, the need for diverse talent is more urgent than ever, and all of this has amalgamated into a serious talent crunch – with content demand at an all time high.To find out more about the future of talent sourcing and what’s driving the evolution of the industry, LBB speaks to leaders from four forward-thinking companies with refreshing approaches - OLIVER CEO of global markets and operations, Sharon Whale; WPP Black Ops founder, Nihar Das; &FRIENDS founder, Tom Maberly; and Crowdiate CEO, Aaron Nemoy - to find out what advertising needs in 2022 and beyond.
Right Team, Right Place, Right Time
From TV, print and radio through to YouTube, podcasts and social media, the number of possible content channels for brands to tap into shows no sign of slowing. We are surrounded by material fighting for our attention. But despite this abundance, it never seems to be enough, with consumers demanding more, better and faster at every turn.
A 2021 survey conducted by GWI Zeitgeist found that almost half of all Gen-Z and Millennials want ads to be entertaining. On top of that, 37% of consumers would think negatively about a brand if the ad was not relevant to them.
For brands, it’s their biggest challenge yet - how to deliver against the clock, yet ensure that they’re offering relevant, high-quality content that captures audiences. And with uncompromising budgets, the pressure is on marketers to hit the spot every time. Because, “if we don’t execute it with authenticity, then consumers will simply ‘skip’,” as Tom Maberly of &FRIENDS, points out.
“Brands need a content solution that delivers efficiency, premium quality and specialist expertise on demand – essentially the best of in-housing / outsourcing, simultaneously – without the huge investment and commitment necessitated by traditional models,” he says.
As a production partner and talent management specialist, &FRIENDS is aimed at brand marketing departments and agency partners, working alongside all parties involved to support brands right from the earliest stages of a campaign. With a proprietary in-house platform, they are able to build bespoke teams of creative specialists that can be switched ‘on’ and ‘off’ - they call it FlexSourcing, or giving clients full ‘pay-as-you-go’ diverse creative teams that flex according to demand.
Recently contracted to provide multiple teams on a swathe of projects for Dentsu's agencies in Australia, &FRIENDS is enabling them to achieve the agility they need to keep pace with client demand. “Our principal role is to supply premium quality talent on every project – whether that’s talent our clients need, to flexibly expand their in-house capability – or us working with that talent on our clients’ behalf; it’s a big step on from simply being a production partner,” says Tom.
“We’re expanding fast right now – so we can offer end-to-end content production at scale, by blending our in-house creative and production teams with specialists from our global community. But we can also give our clients their own, infinitely expandable and flexible talent pool, which we manage and pay through our platform – eliminating the friction that comes with traditional talent solutions.”
For Vodafone Smart Tech’s recent Curve Pet tracker launch film, &FRIENDS handled everything from concept to delivery, through a blend of respective in-house teams and specialists from their community.
“All of our specialists are vetted for quality and onboarded into our client’s brand, so once you have these teams, you can configure your talent pool in any way you need. It's hugely exciting – and exactly what brands and agencies need to keep pace with changing industry demand.”
“But another hugely important factor for us - and of course brands, who all have their own Net Zero (or similar) targets they need to keep an eye on - is sustainability in the production process. It’s not great if the CMO says they've consistently missed carbon emissions targets because they've had their agency flying 30 people around the world for shoots. Why not only send the key people, and crew-up the majority on the ground? You can only do this if you have confidence that the makers on the platform have been properly vetted – which in our case, they have.”
A hyper-targeted approach is something that OLIVER Agency sees great value in too. Though it is renowned as an in-housing agency, CEO of global markets and operations, Sharon Whale, explains that “we don’t simply put talent inside brands, as many alternative in-house agency providers do. We are much more than that.”
“We build bespoke in-house solutions for clients, which help create evolved marketing ecosystems fit for the future. For example, our clients can scale-up and down their marketing solutions the moment it’s needed. We give brands a tailored mix of people, process and technology that can accelerate their growth. It’s through transforming internal operations, and bringing better, more consistent marketing solutions to the heart of the business, that clients save money.”
On the topic of talent sourcing, Sharon says, “The acceleration and proliferation of marketing channels calls for talent that can understand the deep complexities that exist within the modern marketing ecosystem,” she says. “Brands need the right person to embrace the culture of the brand, but also come with the right understanding of modern marketing and technology.”
This is no new territory for OLIVER CEO Simon Martin, who pioneered the in-house agency model in 2004 after pre-empting massive business shifts, triggered by the birth of the Internet. “The world of marketing became increasingly demanding,” Sharon states. “Brands were finding it difficult to keep up with the pace of change, the diversification of global audiences and the proliferation of marketing channels.”
“Simon experienced first-hand how traditional agency models weren’t supporting brands as effectively as they could. He believed that by making the agency part of the brand’s organisational structure, inside the brand’s world, the two could genuinely achieve more, share the same goals, be more efficient and get better results.”
With more and more marketers making this move, OLIVER’s numbers have skyrocketed, doubling in size and picking up a slew of awards. “In 2021, we won over 35 new clients and we’re delighted to be trusted with expanded scopes of work, leading to an organic growth rate of 35% for the second year running.”
A Trend For Transience
With brand problems changing, they find themselves in unfamiliar territory, where the rules are undefined. And this, says Nihar Das - founder of multidisciplinary organisation WPP Black Ops - requires unfamiliar solutions.
“Often these problems do not fit the usual swim lanes of agency functions such as media, creative, PR, research, etc. Imagine solving a supply chain challenge with communication,” he points out. “The people needed to address these new problems do not come from discipline that neatly exists inside any holding company or an agency group. The ability to handpick talent to come together in a unique configuration to solve such problems is the core model of Black Ops.”
Launched in 2020, WPP Black Ops is a fluid operation dedicated to solving business problems. Situated in key global hubs, it takes different shapes depending on the challenges clients present.
“The bigger and bolder the problem, the better the fit for Black Ops,” Nihar declares. “At the same time, we are a sum of impermanence; we appear in order to solve a specific problem, and disappear when the problem disappears. Therefore, we are not a retained service. This unique vision gives rise to how we go about leveraging our network differently.”
The company came to be after trialling an experimental working model for one client: SK-II. “It escalated into a new proposition with wide relevance and appeal that’s all about flexibility,” reveals Nihar. Briefed with defining SK-II’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic sponsorship, the team cracked it in just 48 hours, with the BEAUTY IS #NOCOMPETITION series going viral.
“This was our first experiment with our belief of a decentralised-consolation age. Gone are the days when we took a brief and disappeared for weeks to come back with a solution. It fundamentally interfered with the power of creative recency. So we have developed a process to harness the power of creative agency using agile processes.”
The idea of impermanence, and the ebbing and flowing along with a client’s needs, seems to be making small waves in the industry. Over in Canada, Aaron Nemoy, CEO of global creative community, Crowdiate, has spotted similar trends: “As clients migrate away from the big traditional AOR model towards in-house and project-driven solutions, we’re fascinated with the potentially fruitful space evolving that’s neither an agency ‘marriage’ nor a vendor ‘date’ as it seems to be now, but something in the middle. A true partnership that feels less transactional, more akin to ‘living together’. A relationship with shared values, where good work can flourish without the need for a long-term commitment.”
Inspired by global industry competitions like Cannes Young Lions, Aaron saw the opportunity to harness a rich diversity of creative perspectives through open ideation. And once a brief hits production, Crowdiate becomes the steward for the idea, to help find its ultimate execution. “Over time, we’ve built (and will continue to build) a network of various partners in different disciplines whose work we admire and who are willing to work in an immersed and collaborative fashion. The right creative chemistry blocks out ego, only the idea is master.”
For Campbell’s Chunky soup, which was facing a repositioning challenge to regain relevance with a younger generation, Crowdiate briefed its creative community to develop big brand ideas. “Marketers today are hungry for fresh ideas to solve their brand challenge,” states Aaron. “Our model is designed to reach beyond their customary resources, approaching the brief from unexpected angles - the by-product of a community of diverse creative voices. The winning Campbell concept tested in the 99th percentile for overall effectiveness - the most successful advertising on record for the company. Our resulting campaign was awarded an Effie for business turnaround.”
Strength Lies In Differences
This style of talent sourcing, where creatives can be drawn from a rich and vast pool of choices, encourages diversity of perspective which only helps to elevate ideas further. It’s something that the &FRIENDS team are working hard to achieve: “It's our responsibility to look for talent - not just engage with the people who are right under our noses. We're able to do that work on behalf of our clients, to ensure our community represents that of the wider world.”
Not only is this crucial for increasing diversity across projects (something that more and more brands are duly committing too, both on and off camera) but it is what audiences are desperately demanding. Figures from a 2020 Facebook study show that more than half of consumers say they do not feel fully culturally represented in online advertising. Moreover, a 2020 Microsoft Advertising study reveals that 63% of people believe that brands who represent diversity in their ads are more trustworthy and authentic.
“Consumers and audiences are so savvy now. It's crucial that your brand speaks the local language (culturally), as well as the brand’s own 'mother tongue',” says Tom. “And you need the ability to react fast, to keep pace with social and cultural trends. Most businesses - be they brands or agencies - are simply not set up for this kind of internal agility. Through FlexSourcing we can enable them to achieve it – literally overnight.”
Over at OLIVER - whose inclusion and equity policies have been recognised by major bodies including BIMA, the British Diversity Awards and The National Diversity Awards - Sharon says that “inclusive and equitable policies and practices are essential for successful talent onboarding today. You can’t do marketing or advertising without diversity. But you can’t have diversity without first having inclusion and equity.”
“We have been fortunate to support Barclays Black Accelerator programme (from Eagle Labs), helping to launch its new campaign, Black Futures. The campaign hears from Black founders that are defying the odds and overcoming barriers to build brilliantly disruptive businesses. Created in partnership with acclaimed filmmaker Simon Frederick, the short film spotlights the creativity, tenacity, resilience and success of real change-makers from the black community.”
“Businesses must work harder in this area to inspire intense inclusion acceleration. I feel like we’re really living up to that for our people and our clients at OLIVER, but we accept that there is still a way to go. We’re always learning.”
Flexing Into The Future
The flexible working shifts we've seen during the pandemic are just the tip of the iceberg. “As agencies wrestle to meet challenging operating budgets and continue to rely on younger, often overworked staff, I believe marketers will increasingly come to appreciate the value of strategic and creative expertise,” Crowdiate’s Aaron predicts. “Their desire to collaborate with trusted partners will likely result in further growth of the ever-morphing parade of new, smaller shops, as well as alternative models that enable global access to experienced talent beyond our local industry.”
“We are entering a decentralised constellation economy,” Nihar concludes. “However we have been rather late in exploring the power potential of this force in the creative industry. That's why we are playing with creative alliances and technologies that facilitate this at scale, in order for us to create evidence of work that we all can be happy to be part of and to play forward.”
And on the talent side, Tom believes that makers will demand even more flexibility in their working life, “What we want to ensure through our platform is an environment for people to work the way they want while collaborating with, and learning from, the brightest minds in our industry. There's so much creative talent out there that isn't getting a platform to shine - in Africa, China, South America and beyond. Technology means that as a Europe-based creative, you could be working with makers in Asia or Africa as efficiently as if you were in the same room together. The future is hugely exciting!”