A Conversation with Ad Industry Leader Greg Stern

By ANA Archives
Cover image for  article: A Conversation with Ad Industry Leader Greg Stern

Greg Stern is board chair of the 4As and founder/co-chairman of agency BSSP.  He is speaking at the ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference in late April where he will share findings from a new 4As research report, "The Quantum Age of Marketing."  The study identifies and details megatrends that will influence and reshape marketing in the future.  It is scheduled to be released sometime in the second quarter.  ANAs Group Executive Vice President Bill Duggan recently interviewed Stern on the study and other industry topics.

Bill Duggan:  What prompted the 4As to undertake the "Quantum Age of Marketing" study?

Greg Stern:  We wanted to provide our members with an overview of the macro factors and trends in marketing today.  By interviewing a range of sources, from marketers and agency leaders to consultants and academics, we worked to establish broad themes and granular details of the industry today and where it's headed.  This research is designed to understand the implications for marketing associated with this rapidly changing environment, characterized by empowered consumers, dominance of technology and data, and the rapid pace of change.  The report identifies suggested actions that marketers and agencies can take to "future-proof" their businesses.  In short, the "Quantum Age of Marketing" report is intended to inform and enable the future-proofing and future design of businesses, brands, employers, communities and careers.

Duggan:  A key finding of the research has to do with the importance of long-term relationships.  Once upon a time, advertisers and agencies often took pride in the longevity of their relationships.  Is that still the case, and are long-term relationships still important?

Stern:  In the Quantum Age (the fourth industrial revolution) no company can be a subject matter expert in everything.  Deep enduring partnerships are a critical factor for success.  We recognize that strong partnerships have become a strategic imperative for any company to thrive.  Additionally, long-term relationships foster trust, and a relationship built on trust creates more effective solutions.

Duggan:  What's your perspective on the unbundling of media and creative?  And, given the dominance of media in today's digital world, can creative truly be the differentiator it once was?

Stern:  The trend of media and creative collaboration is well underway.  So-called creative agencies often offer connections planning, which provides media strategy, if not buying services, and media agencies now tend to have content offerings.  There's a good reason for it -- solutions are not developed in isolation or in siloed disciplines.  Creative marketing solutions must leverage content and the distribution platforms to deliver that content.  An ineffective message delivered efficiently is still ineffective just as a wildly creative idea, poorly delivered, is not effective.

Duggan:   What are the key priorities for the remainder of your tenure as 4As chair?

Stern:  My main priority continues to be to provide 4As members with significant value across a range of areas.  Specifically, we work to do that with an emphasis on several areas.  These include the advocacy of best practices to ensure a trusted relationship between our member agencies and their clients and a dedicated effort to achieve meaningful progress in diversity and inclusion in the industry.  We are focused on an evolved event strategy that provides more frequent conferences offering actionable insight on specific topics including data analytics, talent and creative use of technology.  Also key are our continued efforts in Washington where we collaborate with industry partners on issues important to our members and their clients, specifically privacy, tax status and freedom of expression.

Duggan:  In your opinion, how might the 4As and the ANA best work together?

Stern:  Although the two organizations and their respective members might disagree on certain issues, it's incumbent on both to work together to develop a common language and approach to addressing those issues.  Moreover, there is an abundance of issues in which we have common interest that require collaboration.  These range from accelerating brand growth and promoting diversity and inclusion within our industries to ensuring a fraud-free and transparent media-buying ecosystem.  Like any group of collaborators, there's room for discussion and disagreement, but there should be no place for animosity and antagonism.

Duggan:  What advice do you have for marketing procurement professionals (a key constituent of the Advertising Financial Management Conference)?

Stern:  I would start by gently reminding them that their agency is their partner, not a vendor.  The best solutions are developed in a collaborative environment that fosters a partnership with a tone established during initial negotiations between agency and procurement.  I would also encourage them to be specific and precise when developing an agency scope of work.  Keep in mind that there is always a win-win solution if all parties seek and leverage an alignment of interests.  I would also ask that they foster formal, balanced relationship management processes with their agency partners, and jointly identify areas of opportunity.  Finally, they should be willing to incorporate performance and incentive-based compensation methodologies.  We all need to look for ways to tie agency compensation to mutually agreed-upon outcomes that are specifically affected by elements within the agency's scope of work.

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