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PHDcast – 9 key take-outs for the media industry to think about

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.

This is the second  of two posts adapted from a podcast  (PHDcast) by  Chris  Stephenson, Strategy Director,  PHD Media Australia  at the second Annual Agency Symposium 2014. Chris is joined by ‘PHDers’ Marcus, Angela, Tara and Kate to discuss all the points of view and debates from the Symposium.

Agency Symposium PHD panel

In the first post  the PHDers  discussed the points of view and debates on the current and future states of the media industry.

Today, the PHDers continue their discussions and cover the key take-outs from the Symposium that can be used and developed in organisations right now.

Click here to  listen to the full PHDcast.

Key take-outs to use and develop


Thinking about what we’re taking away from this event from everything we’ve seen, heard and debated for the last two days, what are some of the key take-outs? What are some of the key things that we’ll be looking to use and develop or think about?

1. Collaboration


Collaboration I think is the big word of the session for me and how it’s not a dirty word. The perception is that we’re all in competition with each other and we work in quite a rat-racey industry where it’s hugely competitive, but I think we need to avail more and leverage relationships better and not work in silos.

This goes not just across companies but within our own companies and organisations. I think that would be my key take-out. It’s not a new one, but it’s one that every one of these sessions that I go to drives that point home.

2. Continue to look forward


I think continuing to look forward. We all really have to be futurists, that’s what our industry is based upon and I think that the futurists today talked a lot about the runway that we have. Given that we have that runway, we do have to predict change and meet the road before it meets us so I think that’s a really important thing we need to do.

3. Give options to clients


For all of the stuff around innovation and data, there was some really back to basics stuff that came out around just observing the need for change and valuing what we do. There was some really good conversation around that as well.

Certainly I really like the idea of the rated system for the team that you put forward in terms of pitches and things like making sure you actually give options to clients about what they want and tailor it to their requirements. We need more conversations around that rather than basically going in with, “this is what we want to do”. It was good.

4. More flexibility and creativity


Yes from my perspective, the approach to talent and how we get talent in the agency. We’ve got to rethink it. That was a big factor plus more flexibility and creativity in partnering with clients, our pricing models, who we’re working with for those clients etc.

I think it came up a lot that we aren’t dealing with the CEOs of those companies enough to know what their business problems are. We’re just dealing with the head of marketing and they don’t always have the same problems as the CEO does or they’re not aligned with the business problems. They’re motivated by their own KPIs. Those were the key things for me.

5. Be more mindful of the client perspective


That really came through in the value pricing conversation whereby there was a panel of people, all of whom agreed that we should be moving more in the direction of value-pricing, being aware of our USPs, and making sure that we’re positioning ourselves and pricing what we sell accordingly. What John Bradshaw said really rang true because he had been a client and he was saying, “it’s all very well for us to  talk about value-pricing.

And moving away from time-based remuneration, he says, from a client’s point of view, unless you have an understanding of where they’re coming from and the challenges that they have, their PNL, they can’t pay you more if there isn’t any money in the coffers.

Agencies have to be more mindful of the client perspective which I thought was quite insightful and he was the one sole voice on that panel that voiced it from the client perspective.


There was also treating remuneration like a super fund – stable, low risk and then high risk. That is an interesting concept for us to adopt as well.

6. Know your value proposition


We have to be flexible. It’s a hybrid model not one model fits everyone and flexibility. Just knowing the client business problem, dealing with the right people at the client and if the client doesn’t have any more money to pay you then you’re wasting your time going down that route with them.

Also, our value proposition was a huge theme. What is our value proposition? If you’re going to go to value-based time, you have to know what the value is. What’s the value? You have to define it.


I think we all need to be better at knowing our value and creating and being able to articulate what our USP as people and as organisations are.


That’s even better metrics for understanding your contribution beyond just the pure ones, you’ve got to understand the whole arena.


Yes I think for me definitely.  Angela,  you’re absolutely right, the themes of collaboration and finding new ways to collaborate with people who are traditionally in our industry plus people who aren’t traditionally in our industry.

How do we collaborate with people beyond the industry? It’s not necessarily bringing new skills into the PNL, but it’s bringing new skills into the building by how we might share time or share resource or however that might be.

So the  reasons we need to collaborate was absolutely fundamental to me and that was just this idea of reinvention and continually just thinking about what new things we can do.

7. Keep reinventing yourselves


We have to be like Madonna – we have to keep reinventing ourselves. It’s Darwinian.


I also thought when we were talking about all this automation which is something that slightly scares me , and I know I shouldn’t say that out loud, but I thought it was really refreshing for the futurist at the end to say machines are for answers, humans are for questions.

There is never not going to be a role for humans and we’re much better at thinking of strategising and thinking of the right questions to ask. We may not have all the answers but it’s not our job to have the answers anymore because they do it better than us.


And that presumably is the whole point and that’s the  secret to unlocking big data.  Big data was never about the data, it was about the questions that you can apply to it and ask of it.

8. Question everything


There was another speaker yesterday who was talking about continuing to question everything. The why, the how, the what, and in being continually curious you unlock new opportunities and avenues all the time. I think that’s  really important.

9. Sheer optimism


Final thoughts before we wrap up on anything that you individually have got out of the symposium. I for one have been delighted by what feels like just the sheer optimism of the last day or so.

Yes, challenging.  Yes, difficult. Yes there were lots of questions to which we don’t know the answer but boy, if we’re stuck on a ship that we’ve got to rebuild whilst we’re out at sea, which is essentially what we’re all in, I can’t think of a better bunch of people that I’d rather be stuck on a boat with while we’re trying to rebuild it.  It really is an industry full of very passionate, engaged, interested and interesting people.

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.