Ashton Media
Marketing & Customer Experience Hub

Fighting for the future: dispatches from The Agency Symposium

The Agency Symposium 2014 run by  Ashton Media  was held in the Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia on the 17-18 September. The audience represented the most influential minds in the industry and provided senior agency executives with an engaging and inspiring environment to discuss the most pressing matters facing the media and advertising industry.

Fighting for the future

In today’s post, Chris Stephenson, Strategy Director at PHD Media Australia, shares insights gleaned from the Agency Symposium and asks the all important question –  Do you want to fight the future, or fight for it?

Agency Symposium future image

It’s our turn to change

There has never been a more necessary time for us to build – as Gerd Leonhard would put it – a “bridge between now and the future”. It was in the context that our industry tops the ‘to be automated’ list that we gathered in the glorious surroundings of the Hunter Valley to discuss, debate and define our future, and build our own bridges to what is to come.

The speakers and the topics they each addressed were diverse, from technology and futurism to innovation and automation, taking a little procurement on the way. But all of them, in some shape of form, addressed change. That oldest of constants in our lives, and one that is accelerating to cause so much disruption in our industry and beyond.

If there was one message from the Symposium it was the realisation that the world, our world, has changed … and that now it’s our turn.

Changing relationships

Changing relationships was a theme addressed by many of the speakers and delegates in the corridor and bar conversations between and after sessions. Changing relationships with clients was the theme of IPA UK President Ian Priest‘s presentation on the IPA’s efforts to align creativity and commerciality to create win wins for agencies and clients.

Tackling commoditisation in the industry, David Pemsel of The Guardian addressed the need to change our relationship with (especially digital) media as automation, combined with viewability and the potential decline of cookies, impact our industry.

Forging new relationships was also a key theme in the new business panel debate in which industry legends (there, I said it) discussed the opportunity for new alliances and relationships to forge more creative and effective solutions for clients in a pitch scenario.

There was also much talk of new agency models and the merit of singing in a pitch presentation – both of which are topics, alas, for another day.

Changing  skill-sets

Coupled with new relationships are also changing skill-sets. Tom Armstrong shared his observation that 60% of jobs didn’t exist two years ago. Richard Peters of Decoded made the compelling case that as software ate up the world; agencies had not only outsourced the doing – but also outsourced their thinking.

His subsequent ‘decoding’ of case studies and the hands on workshop were a highlight for me personally as they demonstrated that not only was the opportunity to change our skill-sets necessary, but eminently possible.

Changing  mindset

It’s an illustration that perhaps the greatest shift we’re experiencing, is of a changing mindset. We’re all of us technology companies now … but for all of its capability there’s much that technology can’t do. Leonhard also noted that “machines can’t compete with us on EQ and creativity” … what we ask of machines remains a uniquely and awesomely human intuitive capability.

That’s why Instagram‘s Head of Brand Jessica Sherrets, in her first address to the Australian industry, placed Instagram’s community at the heart of her product and brand ideas at the centre of Instagram’s ad proposition. And it’s why Lara Brownlow talked not of the technology behind LinkedIn, but how the graph of work they are building can be leveraged to create networks, build reputations, and grow business.

Lara also observed that “today’s top performing leaders are social leaders” – technology can’t run successful companies, a point backed up by James Adonis who noted that what successful Fortune 500 CEOs have most in common … is high EQ. All this change creates a world in which the awesomeness of humanity combines with the amazingness of technology.

The point is that you can’t choose. You need to have both and you need a mindset that encompasses the possibilities of their combination. There’s only really one question … do you want to fight the future, or fight for it?

It was a genuine pleasure to be amongst so many people who with such intelligence, optimism, passion and wit are going about doing the latter.

Chris Stephenson - Strategy Director PHD Media Australia About Chris Stephenson - Strategy Director PHD Media Australia
For ten years Chris has explored and delivered media strategy and planning at PHD London, Vizeum UK and currently PHD Australia, where he is Strategy Director. Chris is a graduate of the UK\'s IPA Excellence Diploma, his essay promoting the value of existing customers was one of six (and the only from a media planner) to be published in Campaign magazine.