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Ask the Expert: agencyside’s Bret Giles on social media, the future of advertising and digital marketing

[1]Based in Tempe, Arizona,  agencyside [2] provides social media training for ad agencies. Bret Giles, president of the company, shares his insights, thoughts and advice. Marketwire was pleased to partner with agencyside for their annual conference, BOLO 2010 [3], where we met and mingled with some truly fantastic folks in the digital realm.

1. What’s the most common question you get from your clients and what’s your general response?

The question I get the most has to do with changes in the agency financial and value model and how to deal with such changes.  Ad agencies have largely worked the same way for 50-plus years, yet they are now being thrown into a whole new game with digital and social media.  What worked before no longer works well and clients are demanding a strong knowledge on myriad media options. 

I explain to our clients the great opportunity that exists for those willing to commit to a new way of doing business.  Flat is not growth no matter what people say in these challenging economic conditions, and agencies with strong digital knowledge and integration are the ones growing rather than suffering.

2. What new trends will emerge in 2011 – and beyond?

For ad agencies, 2011 will be another year of industry consolidation in my mind.  I think it’s safe to assume more traditional agencies will look to acquire or merge with strong digital specialists to shore up offerings.  At the same time, as the media and communications landscape becomes increasingly fragmented and technical, specialist marketers in the right spaces will be in high demand.  Location-based services and a ripe mobile marketing environment make this an area of tremendous opportunity in 2011, particularly for agencies servicing local, brick-and-mortar clients.

With the proliferation of smartphones, it’s finally prime time for branded apps, mobile sites, content and more.  In addition, I think some of the intense pressure on ROI from social media will dissipate as it becomes recognized for the true value it brings to loyal customers and advocacy relationships.  Finally, I hope to see a strong emphasis placed on local and hyperlocal opportunities in search, advertising, placements, profiles and the like.  This area is largely misunderstood yet heavily relied upon by consumers. 

3. Generally speaking, what do you think the digital marketing world has done right – and what has it completely missed the boat on?

The digital marketing world has been right in the emphasis placed on search marketing.  Search engines and now search functionality on Facebook, Twitter and other social network sites has forever changed how we find information.  This includes information as simple as addresses, hours and phone numbers and as complex as symptom checkers, drug interactions and real-time health advice.  Along the way, we have uncovered a reasonable model to integrate meaningful and valuable messages from brands and services.  Since search marketing is native to the digital realm, the way in which consumers interact with brand messages is well-thought and successful for both parties.

In contrast, the ubiquitous banner ad really missed the boat and continues in many aspects to do so.  Banner ads are simply holdover units from the days of print.  They are a way to take what we know works in one media and try to force it to another.  To me, it’s as logical as placing a static banner ad on television.  We don’t interact with banner ads – or at least a very select few of us do.  So why are they still there?  It’s because they are easy for web properties to sell in the same old and tired way and because they create for an easily constructed marketplace of supply and demand.  But they are not native to digital channels and only this year are starting to show what they can truly be.  Interactive.  Full video.  Highly targeted.  It’s possible for these ads to be insanely compelling; it’s still just too complicated to do it the right way.

4.  What advice can you offer a new start-up entering the marketing arena?
Focus and differentiate yourself based on your ability to achieve client goals at a strategic level.  In other words, be a trusted advisor who can provide a strong, long-term foundation for your clients rather than a firefighter who takes on small, fast-turnaround projects.  While production-focused agencies can thrive in the future, I think they will be in the minority, overshadowed by the idea designers.  The greatest value of an outsourced marketing partner is in generating ideas that have meaningful impact on the relationship between client and customer/prospect.  Who cares if that is implemented in .NET or PHP?  There are many small firms and individuals who will gladly take on that work for a fraction of the margin you’ll make as the strategic advisor.  

5. Briefly give us a little background on yourself, and a bit of history on agencyside—what you do and who you serve.

I grew up in Tucson, then moved to Tempe to attend Arizona State University. Upon graduation, I moved to San Francisco and worked for Ketchum Communications and The Sharper Image before moving back to Phoenix and accepting a position with SkyMall.  After five years there, I moved to MicroAge where I led the marketing efforts for their first ecommerce initiative.  That inspired me, along with my business partner Margie Traylor, to form a digital agency, Sitewire, in 1999.  In 2008, I began speaking to agency associations about digital marketing and quickly saw a need in the market to help agencies integrate digital service offerings into their growth models.  We formed agencyside late in 2008 to offer agency-exclusive training, an annual conference called BOLO, advice, tools and reviews to small- to mid-size agencies across the US.  We currently work with about 120 agencies.

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