Disruptive integration: AllTogetherNow’s Conor McNicholas explains why firms struggle with digital

Will Railton
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The old model of a social media department which reports to PR and marketing is incompatible with the network today, says Conor McNicholas
For a brand to make a big impact, a multifaceted campaign combining analytics, creative, media buying and more is now a requirement. But coordinating different specialists working on one campaign can be difficult, and agency models have begun to change so clients can be offered an end-to-end marketing solution. Former NME and Top Gear editor Conor McNicholas joined The&Partnership in 2014 as chief executive of content agency AllTogetherNow (ATN), part of its integrated network of specialist agencies which aims to deliver comprehensive campaigns for clients like Travelodge and Virgin Money. In recent months, McNicholas has been activating the global promotion of the Lexus Hoverboard, which was finally unveiled last week.
Why is agency integration so important?
Social, video production, media buying, analytics, content strategy: they’re not agencies, they’re tools to allow the client to derive value from the digital space. When agencies decide to treat them as separate, you get a Checkpoint Charlie effect whereby the advertising agency finishes its TV slot and dead drops it for the media buyer to pick up, and so on, which is extremely inefficient. ATN has a team of people who are “platform-agnostic”. Our creatives are attuned to how activation occurs on the marketer’s end, and vice versa, so a clear creative vision and strategy can be carried from end to end without getting distorted. An integrated service doesn’t mean spreading ourselves thin. The&Partnership is a network of specialists working together.
With content taking up increasing portions of ad spend, how do you view the marketing “mix”?
Digital is disruptive. It disrupts social feeds and social spaces and it’s very effective at building awareness of a message. But it is true content which cultivates a relationship with the consumer, and this can be built upon in the future. With the Lexus Hoverboard, ATN ramped up interest over several months, hitting several million views worldwide with announcement videos without a penny of media spend, just smart use of the network.
With digital, you spend money, you get a spike and it flattens out so you constantly have to re-buy those eyeballs with every new campaign. With content, though, there may be a tailing off after the campaign, but you’ll start from a better position in future, when you start spending again.
What difficulties do businesses face in taking advantage of digital?
Shaping business around real consumer behaviour is one of today’s biggest commercial struggles. Unfortunately, companies are still structured to tackle the linear, serial and analogue marketing problems of the twentieth century. It’s a Schrödinger’s Cat scenario: the old model of a social media department which reports to PR and marketing is incompatible with the network today.
The advent of digital has signalled the dissolution of the roles once played by media owners, advertising agencies, brands and consumers. While consumers once imbibed the message which the brand wanted to sell, they are now media creators, publishers, and the brand is no longer in complete control of its message, and it must accept that. As a marketer, the client needs to be able to trust that you can communicate their message in these new ways on their behalf.
What is preventing effective return on investment (ROI)?
ROI is a challenge for firms, not agencies. Marketers can refine their understanding of a client’s needs and the tools needed to help them, given enough time. But they’ll need the client’s data feeds to implement a strategy, and this is where the problem lies.
So much about ROI is signal-to-noise ratio; we’re searching through a lot of background noise to find that one frequency which takes the consumer right the way through to conversion and beyond, so that they can be re-targeted, foster a relationship and hopefully be turned into an advocate for the brand.
It’s a hard task to begin with, and too often there’s a wall, with e-commerce refusing to surrender data to marketers, who need to assess what is growth and what isn’t, because e-commerce won’t get bonused on that work. We need to achieve transparency of data from engagement through to purchase.
Which social campaign has impressed you most over the last year?
Land Rover has been working on its #Hibernot campaign for a while, but it really took off this year. It has been so successful because it taps into a genuine insight; Land Rover owners were spending their winters on the beach with the kids and the dog while everyone else was shut up indoors, long before the campaign started. They’ve curated a cultural movement, binding a community of their customers with a punchy hashtag, and they’ve allowed their customers to create their campaign for them.

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