April 13, 2010

Part 2.0: Mediasmith's Emerging Technology Practice


We began yesterday with Part One of this Five-part series by comparing Dave Smith of Mediasmith and Jefferson Smith, the character played by Jimmy Stewart in the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Both of their stories reflect the mythological "dare to dream" American Dream. You know the rest! In this episode we cover how Dave dreamt up the idea of establishing an "Emerging Technology" practice at Mediasmith.


Tim: Let's talk about the Internet. Mediasmith is well entrenched in the interactive space. Some of the evidence of that is your client roster. It's heavy on technology as I see it. There's also the sizable amount of work that you publish on an on-going basis. And the third thing of course is one of the reasons I wanted to meet up with you. That's your work on Emerging Technologies. Before we dive into that I had a personal question.

Dave: What's that?

Tim: Well, after more than a handful of years in this business, you still have the effervescence and excitement of learning about niche-level elements as much as a junior media strategist! How do you do it? What drives you to stay on the edge of the media business? There's no question that you know infinitely more about new media technology than any of your peers. I refer to various CEO's of the media agencies your company goes up against. I know for a fact that their job today has been reduced to worrying about head count and bottom line than anything else.

Dave: That's a complex question. So is the answer, but I'll try to keep is as simple as I can.

Tim: Okay.

Dave: First of all, fear is a great motivator.

Tim: LOL!

Dave: Fear is the greatest motivator of all (smiling). It's part of what helps me get up in the morning! (Laughing) But seriously, you've got to keep the ball moving ahead. But, it's also a matter of what your emphasis is going to be. The Internet was a very natural thing for me and my partner Karen McFee to get into because we immediately saw the potential of the Web as the vehicle for "convergence" (of The Broadcast and Motion Picture Industry, the Print and Publishing Industry and the Computer Industry.) For our industry, this concept that was first outlined by Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and chairman of the MIT Media Lab in the 1987 book "The Media Lab" by Stewart Brand.) We quickly saw that the Internet could play a major role in future media mix as a tool for clients. We got on early in 1995 as far as from an advertising standpoint. We were there from the beginning.

Tim: You were.

Dave: As far as what keeps the energy going, the enthusiasm going, it's all about staying active. It keeps my curiosity going, simply because we're talking about very interesting developments. Media people should always be students of new things. There are so many new things going on right now that it's almost overwhelming, which leads up into addressing your question.

Tim: Yes.


Dave: So the question is, how did we tackle the work we produced on "Emerging Technologies?" The answer is that we have a great management team and wonderful involvement and buy-in at all levels, down to the newest recruit. We've worked hard to push our clients into things like podcasting, blogging, widgets, etc.. We have a lot of experience already, but there are even more. Many of the Emerging Technologies we've developed individual programs for are becoming good media vehicles. As you know, we've always taken a very ambitious stance on education and to act as an evangelizer.


Tim: Give me an example

Dave: We've made countless presentations to groups as varied as the 4A's conferences, to OMMA, The ARF and to iMedia conferences. We've made numerous presentations to our clients. This of course is where our emphasis has always been focused. Our expertise started to grow but the speed of things seemed to be going even faster. For example, you and I were talking earlier about the 22 Emerging Technologies. I must have sent that to you a month ago. This morning I counted a total of 24 that we are tracking. It's going to keep growing. When we decided to take the initiative behind these Emerging Technology programs, we developed specialists. Or I should say the specialists selected themselves!

Tim: What do you mean by that?

Dave: In any given media department, there's somebody who knows more about radio or out-of-home who you are going to talk to before you write a media plan that you know must include one of these media types. You're going to talk to that person as a planner as you're developing the plan. We took that concept. We listed all the areas of specialty that we needed experts on. We wrote them all on a piece of paper and then posted it on the wall in our office kitchen. I then sent out an email to everyone in the company; from the most senior execs to the most junior analyst. It said "We need all of you to become specialists in one of these things."

Tim: Cool.

Dave: Some of them were already specialists in one or more of them. We asked them to go into the kitchen after they read the email and select one or more that they would like to be a specialist in. We also let them know that they needed to do build this information within the next 3 weeks!

Tim: LOL!

Dave: Now, for most of the areas, there was already a starting point with the work that we had done to date. But in less than a month, we had over 200 pages in our Emerging Technology PowerPoint. It's so robust that we keep trying to cut it down into bite-sized pieces for our clients. We've made the presentation to a number of people. Each Emerging Technology has between 10-15 pages. When we go out and talk to a specific company, we narrow it down to the types of media vehicles that are most important to them. By doing so, of course, it's incredibly relevant and better understood.

Tim: What do you plan on doing with it? Is it for sale? If so, to who?

Dave: We see this work in Emerging Technologies as a service aspect within the total advertising support we provide to our clients. It's just like being equipped with what our clients need to be aware of if they are considering the use of TV or radio. Only in these cases they are more niche-related. Our work on Emerging Technologies is what's necessary for us to provide superiority of service to our clients. We need to know as much about podcasting or widgets or blogs as we do about traditional media.


Tim: Makes sense.

Dave: If others don't have the depth of knowledge we do, they have a different philosophy than ours. To us these are essential tools. Our move into Emerging Technologies is simply this. We're following the eyeballs. We're going where people are going. It's more complex today. If you look at the media landscape 12 or 13 year ago, we had 5 media to worry about, TV, radio, magazines, newspapers and out-of-home. When the Internet came along, we added what we are now calling "Traditional Web." That's one of my favorite current oxymorons. Others included Email, search, and banners. When you add them altogether, it makes eight!

Tim: Right

Dave: So when you add the 24 Emerging Technologies we are tracking to the main eight you now have 30-something media types we believe a world-class media agency must be aware of. It's all about our requirement to understand of the future, or in this case, vertical integration. Something Andrew Heywood of CBS called "media impressionism".

Tim: That's right.

Dave: It's very McLuhan-esque. The medium is the message. You have to reach people the way they'd rather take the message in, in order to communicate with them. While we do consulting with people on Emerging Technologies, and we do consulting with the media on how to deploy them, our biggest use of these programs is to help clients understand how to apply them for their media plans and buys, on a daily basis.

Tim: I would imagine some of these media platforms are going to shake out. Some may get the support and some won't. There's going to be some that evolve and morph together as well.

Dave: Yes. Some will shake out. Some will be subsumed by others. And what we're seeing right now is a lot of morphing going on. What we all refer to now as a "mashup." Just as you might have a mashup of two songs along with some video in the content side, consider that the same will happen with a bunch of media technologies.

Tim: Give me an example.

Dave: Facebook is a social network that also overlays instant messaging. It also overlays the use of widgets, even though they call them applications. So here we have three Emerging Technologies mashed up into one.


Tim: A Facebook application is really a widget?

Dave: A widget is, for definitional purposes a small application that could reside on your desktop. It could be something that is downloaded into your desktop, something into your MyGoogle or MyYahoo page, or you can view it on a social network like MySpace or Facebook. It may reside there but it is still something that promotes your brand or your concept. And it could be as simple as the retail store Target, informing people of how many shopping days they have left until Christmas.

Tim: Right.

Dave: Here's another example. Southwest Airlines pinging you when there's a sale on a flight to Phoenix, or whatever destination you would like to be kept apprised of. It could be weather-related, telling you about certain temperature. There are also new TV shows coming up. There are all sorts of things that widgets could support effectively. They are not a full-blown application like "Word" but they are little applets that sit either on your webpage or desktop or your social network. This last point is particularly important since social networks are places where some audiences are now spending an increasing amount of time.

Tim: Are widgets two-way or one way, just feeding information to the user?

Dave: They're totally interactive and have all of aspects of digital media and applications. They are two-way and they are trackable.

Tim: So you've created this information. You now have a wealth of information about Emerging Technologies. How do you keep it fresh? What are you going to do with it? Is it mostly an element that shows your prowess of your agency? Is it something that if I wanted to purchase or license from you? Are these papers or programs?

Dave: These are programs. These are availabilities to our client base, really as much as anything else. There's a feeling among many right now that these new media are not terribly trackable. One of the aspects of our Emerging Technology offering is it includes a rather extensive list of technologies and companies we can use to test and measure them. It's broken down in two categories; companies that measure audiences from a front-end side of the technologies and those from a back-end side.

Tim: Like what?

Dave: We're talking about the Nielsens of the world. And the back-end technologies like the 3rd party ad servers that measure the analytics and how the consumer reacted to the ad message. It's critical that any study and learning of all new media platforms must be accompanied by how to measure its effect. That's a primary component of our programs. It's important to understand what's going to work best for our clients and what's going to work best for communications.

Tim: So if I was a marketer who sees this list and sees several of them that Mediasmith has a core competency in, that might incentivize me to give you a call. You're putting it out there that these are the things that you have your mind wrapped around, that no one else can really provide.

Dave: Right. And we're doing that with major marketers today in conversations. And it's not just about Emerging Technologies. It's how to integrate the Emerging Technology with traditional web. It's how to integrate it with your offline or traditional media. How to make search a part of the equation versus having the silos that many companies have today where a client has to talk to a person from search, versus Emerging Technologies, versus web, versus traditional media.

Tim: Good for you.

Dave: We really bring them complete solutions, of which Emerging Technologies are a part of it. But we are available to consulting for companies and planning and buying for companies solely for Emerging Technologies too.


Tim: I think the biggest complaint marketers have about digital creative agencies is that they have become boxed in to do one thing well in order for them to run a successful business. They need scale and that is how they achieve it. What a client gets then is a "verticalization" similar to the silos of traditional media. In my mind, perceptually the interactive media business was not supposed to work that way.

Dave: I agree. I'll give you a great example. Take search. What you're referring to is what we're now calling "Multiple Attribution Protocol."

Tim: Explain what you mean by that.

Dave: Just briefly, in the web we mostly give credit to the last interaction with the consumer. Let's say the consumer sees five different ads on Yahoo and three ads on Marketwatch. They also visit the site once every once in a while from those ads. But in the end, what they're going to do is go and open their browser, go to Google, type in the company name and start their interaction to actually make the purchase, even though they might have gone fairly deep into the site already.

Tim: Right.

Dave: So Google gets all the credit for that.

Tim: Right.

Dave: The problem is that in this case, Yahoo and Marketwatch had an impact on the brand purchase but they may be perceived as not paying out from an ROI standpoint as compared to Google. And when we take out all the underlying activity in future buys from Yahoo or Marketwatch by deleting them if they are not efficient enough, ultimately fewer people come to Google. We have case studies that establish that. The whole volume goes down. If we look at it from a CPW standpoint....

Tim: What's CPW?

Dave: Cost-per-whatever!

Tim: LOL!

Dave: That is, whatever the client is trying to measure. It's measuring the true backend. It's possible that Yahoo and that Marketwatch don't come in efficiently enough so the marketer might think that let's broom them and then the whole campaign does less volume. It's not scalable.


Tim: Right.

Dave: So with Multiple Attribution Protocol, you're looking at all of the different interactions of the consumer, digitally. And you're creating algorithms to help give credit to the various interactions along the way. This could devalue search slightly, but it also means that if the search people and the web people at the agency are not talking to each other, or have different agendas or metrics, they won't know what's going on.

Tim: You're right.

Dave: Search is a separate silo many agencies. Under Multiple Attribution Protocol, they're not going to be able to execute the client's strategy if search and web display are not integrated from a tracking and reporting standpoint. That's just one simple example of why you have to have an integrated group in order to implement strategies in todays - what Jim Meskauskus called - Surround sound environment!

Tim: In essence one way of describing Multiple Attribution Protocol is that it is the ability to track up into the purchase funnel.

Dave: Correct. It's not eliminating the track record of where they've been before that got to the destination to buy.

Tim: Right. It's actually identifying it. Can you do that though? Is it available today on the market?

Dave: We're getting closer. There were two companies, Theorem and Blackfoot who last year that did a lot of work in this area. They acted as stalking horses. A lot of agencies experimented with them. As a result, both DoubleClick and Atlas are changing their product development map to be sensitive to this demand. DoubleClick has already gotten reports out in Beta. Atlas is supposed to have something out early Q1. And we'll be able to act on this new protocol on a real time basis very soon.


Please click here for Part 3.

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