The Change Agent: R/GA London chief Matt Lodder discusses the impact of disruption

Marketing communications has progressed rapidly over the last decade and is now almost unrecognisable in comparison to its early 21st century guise, with technology developing at an exponential rate, affecting brands and, in turn, their agencies.

Matt Lodder, who worked at AKQA in London before moving over to head up R/GA’s presence in the same city, has witnessed first-hand how the sector has progressed and client relationships changed in recent years, and when he catches up with The Drum as part of our disruption series, he begins by claiming that the term disruption, unlike many other buzzwords, is one that is still apt, if a little overused.

“Look at what we have seen recently and disruption is polarising right across the spectrum for ourselves and clients. There are people who are disrupting and completely changing the marketplace they are working in, and we are lucky to have a load of clients who are like that, including the likes of Google and Beats by Dr Dre – brands who are disrupting and at the forefront are creating new markets for themselves. And then there are those people who are being disrupted and our partnership is equally important for both of those groups and anyone in the middle. It’s not a term we are finished with. We are still absolutely in the middle of this seismic shift.”

Lodder goes on to add that such a shift in the marketplace is a “huge opportunity” for R/GA, a company known to instil an acceptance to major change every few years while also prescribing it to clients (chief executive Bob Greenberg famously shakes things up at regular nine-year intervals to keep apace of technology shifts).

In fact, no company is able to escape the digital tidal wave, with some of the world’s most famous media names struggling to keep their heads above water, as highlighted by the digital innovation report leak from the New York Times earlier this year.

Referring to the report, Lodder says: “Here is an organisation that has more than 200 developers, with more funding and more power than nearly anyone else in the world, and it is struggling to get a recipe website out of the door.

“That for us as an agency is hugely significant and it’s what we see all the time – large companies with huge amounts of power and resources, research and development budgets and all of the things that go with large operations, struggling to keep up with the pace of change. “That’s where we can come in and help. Often, we are that sharp edge change agent that allows them to produce innovation in a way that the silos of their company don’t allow.”

Lodder points to Apple which has also been found, through the leaking of internal memos, to have its own issues, despite having been at the forefront of the digital age for decades.

“It’s a company that is struggling to break down its internal silos and organisation structure to deliver brand messages that are relevant. If Apple is struggling then everyone is,” he warns, adding that most of the agency’s clients will struggle with disruption in some form.

Lodder says one of the reasons we are seeing polarisation within traditional companies is that, increasingly, brands are having to “be more transparent and work in real-time,” while combining “a series of different functions across products, service and communications that may not have ever talked to each other before”. That is a massive challenge he says.

“They’re not doing all of that for fun. They are doing that because people demand a much more contextual, relevant, human set of experiences. That’s the real shift that’s happening. The technology changing all of these business structures is creating opportunities to produce integrated experiences that are truly contextual and relevant to our lives. That’s what I demand now. I’m not prepared to settle for a microsite – that’s not going to give me what I need anymore.”

Consumer wants for a contextual, truthful and personal experience across various channels have also heightened, placing further expectation and pressure on brands in real-time, claims Lodder, which extends to the agencies employed to solve such client problems.

“I want you to talk to me on Twitter, but I also want you to remember me when I go back into your e-commerce site. And I also want you to know when I go in-store.

“For a normal corporation that’s not possible. Silos make that impossible. That’s why they are coming to agencies to help solve that problem. How can you field that many teams to solve those problems and have them find a solution in time to meet consumer demand? This isn’t stuff you can do in five years time. It has to happen in six months time and that is why they come to us to help with these complex problems.

“The reality is, consumers don’t buy into brands any more. Some of that illusion has dropped. Brand love is in flux and if that is the case then the only response is to provide something that has true value. That’s why we address those problems by being an agency to partner with brands, helping them work through the omnichannel ask.”

Campaigns also have expectations to be met, in that they must be culturally relevant, operate at the pace of society, with teams who are able to react when necessary and produce creative concepts that are ‘elastic’ enough to provoke a two-way dialogue and be moulded to fit.

“That has transformed the agency dialogue completely. It’s not a broadcast, it’s a two way dialogue. What that necessitates in terms of your team is that it is never done. You’re campaign is never finished. In fact, the campaign only ever really starts when people start interacting with it. How does that impact on the traditional agency team? Pretty heavily.”

He continues to say of the expectation of any brand’s online experience: “There is nothing that isn’t connected and what people expect and what we expect is that life is a series of things that connect together and make that meaningful to me. I don’t need your brand message – I need something that is useful, entertaining or enriching my life in some way. Those are the things I embrace, and then I will respect you as a brand.”

Marketing has changed for good, there is no doubt about it. And as brands and chief marketing officers adapt, agencies must maintain a lead on them to offer expertise and knowledge, as well as insight and services to meet client needs.

This piece was originally published in The Drum’s 3 September edition – available to purchase through The Drum Store. 

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