The once in a generation opportunity of big data

Jason RoseIn this guest post, copywriter-turned-investment banker Jason Rose argues that big data is the opportunity agencies have been looking for to get back to the top table.

There used to be a time when the boss of an ad agency worked directly with their client’s CEO.

When it came time for the agency to pitch its next brand campaign, the company’s CEO was there in the boardroom listening intently to the presentation. And (usually) he was directly involved in the final call over the campaign.

Then one day, companies decided to hire people with these things called marketing degrees. Before long, these degree holders had their own department and from that moment on, ad agencies were relegated to a peripheral role within their clients’ businesses.

One reason for this is that marketers, and by extension their ad agencies, found it difficult to demonstrate the value-creating impact of their activities. Showing the costs of a campaign proved far easier than showing the broader benefits to the business.

I believe that ad agencies right now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reverse this trend of marginalisation. The key is for agencies to look beyond their comfort zone of ads and to become experts in the burgeoning field of data.

Now, it’s not very often that I believe ad agencies should look to the accounting profession for inspiration but this an exception.

I was recently reading an interview with the global CEO of one of the big four accounting firms. He was explaining that his firm and its competitors are feverishly pursuing acquisitions, particularly in the field of data analytics.


Because that is an increasingly pressing need of their clients. Corporates are increasingly realising that the explosion in data presents a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous threat if they are not on top of it.

Stop and think about that. These are accounting firms. By definition their remit is balance sheets and tax returns. It has very little to do with data and analytics.

But a long time ago, these firms realised that they are not in the accounting business, they are in the business of solving their client’s most pressing problems. And if they don’t have the skills to solve them already in-house, they hire them or acquire them.

And it’s not only accounting firms that are diving head-long into the world of big data. The major business consulting firms are doing the same thing. Even supermarkets are moving into the field such as Woolworths with its recent partial acquisition of Quantium.

Data presents ad agencies with an enormous opportunity to re-insert themselves into the centre of business decision-making – to once again become their clients’ trusted and indispensable business partners.

There is no reason why ad agencies can’t be that critical partner either. It may require a significant investment in new skills – either hired or acquired, but the opportunity is there.

The key question is whether ad agencies are prepared to reimagine themselves beyond their traditional skillsets and focus on helping to solve their clients’ most pressing needs and challenges.

Jason Rose is a director of Melbourne-based investment bank Concept Equity. He previously worked as a copywriter at agencies including Cummins & Partners, day&age, M&C Saatchi and Samuelson Talbot


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