David and I met in person when we both blogged BRITE at Columbia a couple of years ago. No matter how long you may know someone online, the best way to get to know them is face to face.
Since we've also spent a few days crossing paths at SxSWi recently, I wanted to invite him to participate to our conversation on the agency side of business.
How long have you been on the agency side of business? What do you enjoy most about your work?
David: I’ve been on the agency side for five years now, the past three and change at 360i. I most enjoy the clients I get to work with, especially since they’re a lot of brands I encounter on a regular basis in my own life, and I get to help the people working on these brands with some of the challenges they face.
Was your focus digital from the beginning or did it evolve to that point? What other services do you recommend client integrate in their marketing programs?
David: I work on demand generation campaigns for lead generation support and think integrated is the way to go.
What do you see from where you sit? Are there practices that are becoming better at this point?
David: My focus has always been on digital, even before joining the agency world.
As far as the services, cliché as it is, it does depend on the marketer, brand, and goals. I spend most of my time with emerging media, especially social media and mobile. With social media, not every brand needs to be on Twitter, but everyone needs to be monitoring it.
There are some staples with digital media; everyone with a web site needs to consider some degree of search engine optimization, for example. But few such tactics are right for every campaign.
You have been an active participant in many social networks and have direct experience with social media. How much did your direct involvement help you feel you understand its dynamics well enough to explain them to your clients?
David: My involvement in it as a participant has been critical in helping me explain it. A good example that comes to mind is when I wrote a column about Second Life, and a die-hard fan of the virtual world wrote a blog post tearing my column to shreds, to the point where his response was longer than my column. Yet he acknowledged that at least I was someone who used it and wasn’t just observing from the sidelines.
I was a blogger before I ever advised anyone on a blog outreach campaign, I was a Facebook user long before I worked on Facebook ad and Page strategies, and I had been using Twitter for quite some time before helping one of our clients to become among the first major marketers participating there.
And there are those examples like Second Life where I spent a fair amount of time there to the point where I realized it wasn’t right for our clients, even though I’ll still consider virtual worlds down the road.
From the corporate side I have not been impressed with agencies over the years. Creative that did not sell and account teams that did not understand the business have by and large been a problem.
Social media is transforming work, the dynamics, and business models. Yet, it seems that agencies have underestimated this shift. As a digital agency, does 360i have the opposite challenge - that of educating and enlightening clients? How do you go about that?
David: I don’t want to sound too preachy about 360i, but I am proud of the resources and investment the agency invested in our Emerging Media Practice at an early stage. Part of that investment is in educating clients and, if we’re lucky, enlightening them. Much of this comes in the form of personal interaction (in person, on the phone, and over email) between our lead strategists and our clients.
We also author regular Point of View pieces that go into great detail on issues and topics that are of value to our clients, from iPhone advertising options to how social media plays a role in Customer Relationship Management 2.0.
We also have a blog, Digital Connections (blog.360i.com), a Facebook Page, and a Twitter account (@360i), and you can expect us to use social media channels to share even more, from our viewpoints to research studies.
Credibility and value are the currency of social media. Companies are struggling to figure this one out, especially those that are used to think in terms of their messages.
You have an advantage over internal resources in companies: as an outsider, your advice may be followed. How do you work with companies to help them build better relationships with their customers?
David: One great way is helping companies listen to their customers, and along with our account groups, we have a Customer Insights team dedicated to this.
It’s really powerful when you can combine hard research with the anecdotal examples of what consumers are saying as it eliminates a lot of the guesswork, and we can be even more confident in our own strategies. It’s hardly foolproof and you still need to execute, but it does increase the odds of success in building relationships quite a bit.
What do you think is in store for agencies in the next 3-5 years? Will agencies rethink their dependency on media? Is there a new model in sight?
David: Media’s not going away. There is a risk that a lot of the established media properties will be eroded as consumers continue to gravitate to properties that are more about conversations than content. Yet that line is blurring too.
Meanwhile, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter happen to be increasingly effective traffic drivers to other media properties – which of course are predominantly ad supported.
The safe bets are that consumers will continue to gravitate to news, sports, weather, gossip, and other content categories of interest, and those properties that can find an audience and are backed by sustainable business models will flourish. The changes will be predominantly in how consumers find and access the content.
Will search be more or less important? Will it spread more through word of mouth or with personalization technologies predict what each consumer wants in the first place? Will major online publishers in a few years tend to get the vast majority of their traffic from consumers on mobile devices?
These are all important questions, and models will have to adopt as we answer them – or as consumers answer them for us – but media will always matter.
What is your personal secret sauce? How do you influence your colleagues and team?
David: Keeping a good candy stash helps. Really though, I think my best form of influence comes from authenticity. No matter how much I learn, I’ll always be a student of media, I’ll always want to share what I learn with others, and I’ll always seek to try things first-hand and speak from experience over speculation.
Who would be your ideal client?
David: The tactful answer is that all my clients are my ideal clients, and I do work with a lot of the brands I truly love, from Comedy Central to J. Crew. But I’ve got a sweet tooth (see the previous question), so my ideal clients would really be Sprinkles Cupcakes, Jacques Torres Chocolate, and Franken Berry cereal.
I did once start the blog mrsaltywatch.com when I was obsessed with Mister Salty 100 Calorie Snack Packs, but I spent way more time eating than blogging and only got a few posts up before I moved on. I haven’t moved on from Sprinkles though, and if you’re friends with me on Dopplr or Tripit and see that I’m going to Dallas, you know I’ll be making at least one stop to Sprinkles.
What questions would you like to ask David?
[David Berkowitz at SxSWi 2009]