- Karen Kaplan, CEO and chairman at Hill Holliday, and Joy Howard, CMO of Sonos, dissected the state of agencies of record (AORs) during “Ask the CMOs: Is the AOR DOA?,” the final panel of Advertising Week 2016. The discussion was moderated by Robert “Bob” Safian, the editor and managing director of Fast Company.
- Approaching from the agency perspective, Kaplan hammered on the idea that AORs are best equipped to provide “curation” to the customer experience, while Howard argued that the curation aspects now largely fall in the lap of CMOs, adding that customers today actually have the most control over their time spent with brands.
- Howard instead championed AORs as a strong source for “strategic leadership” and collaboration, claiming they provide deep knowledge and innovation in the communications space and lend expertise to areas where in-house teams might be less competent (in her case with Sonos, video production).
Both Howard and Kaplan highlighted how nebulous the role of AORs has become in an era when the distinction between brand and client is blurred and media channels are continually fragmented.
“What you have happening more and more — and this is very much driven by the acceleration of innovation in digital communication — requires a pace and a speed that makes us want to take creative in-house,” CMO Howard said, adding later that “one of the hardest things" for AORs is the inability to access the "instrumentation that brands are developing internally in order to be responsive to data.”
Kaplan similarly touched on the increased “proliferation of content” and how it has shaken up the industry, estimating that the lifespan of agent-client relations is now normally three years or less — if there’s any relation at all — where in the past some partnerships spanned decades.
Where the two execs diverged was on how AORs can best correct for what could be read as a fleeting relevance and stature. Kaplan’s emphasis on curation, and on mapping out the entire “customer journey,” was met with the most skepticism from Howard.
Howard argued that, given all of the fragmentation and "proliferation" occuring, curation of entire customer experiences is nearly impossible and, in the most interesting point of contention of the night, potentially morally wrong.
"It’s almost not even ethical to curate it at some level, when it’s so costumer created," she said of brand experiences.
The comment was left largely unremarked on, but underscored how much the amount of control has shifted between AORs and consumers in the past few years alone — a change many agencies are still struggling to adjust to.