Buoyed by a highly successful 24 months, UM global chief executive Daryl Lee is being careful where he places his bets.
It is the claim that has been made year after year – to the point of becoming an industry joke. So when did the ‘year of mobile’ really take place? 2007, when the iPhone was first released? 2012, when many markets first began benefitting from 4G data speeds?
Daryl Lee, global chief executive of IPG Mediabrands agency UM, has a different answer – and one he is aware may incite a smattering of ridicule. “Every year we say this, but I think it is true: this will be the year of mobile,” he says.
Hear him out. With audiences drinking in information and entertainment by the gallon on their smartphones, and the likes of Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook focused on developing mobile video products, Lee argues that 2017 will be the year that agencies must prove mobile advertising works – both to marketers and sceptical consumers.
“I don’t want to go down as the person who always says, ‘It’s the year of mobile,’ but I haven’t said it before. I think it will be this year, and we will have to prove that mobile will be good for marketing, and not just a utility that provides you the last offer you need before you move into a store.”
‘Overwhelmed’ by content
The claim links back to UM’s Wave 9 report, the latest iteration of an annual study into social and digital media it first kicked off a decade ago.
With consumers feeling increasingly “overwhelmed” by content, Lee says that agencies must help clients to reach prospective customers at the opportune moment – even if you only have “1.7 seconds” to make that connection.
Social media, he adds, is no longer the “baby” in the marketing world, and should be approach with the same rigour that its “maturity” deserves: “You can’t be present in every moment of consumers’ lives. When are the right moments for your brands to make a connection? Thinking of our media plans, how do we curate a series of moments using media?”
Questions, questions. However, UM feels itself to be in a good place to be able to answer those points.
“There are some brands and businesses that are not right for us, and some clients that are looking for something different”
Fresh from winning prestigious ‘Media Agency of the Year’ gongs – and Lee himself being named Adweek’s ‘Executive of the Year’ in May – UM enjoyed a strong 12 months, winning business from Fitbit, GoPro, Tourism Australia and Hulu, as well as defending Coca-Cola account across India, the Middle East and Western Europe.
While not scaling the heights of its 2015 retention of Johnson & Johnson’s global media, it meant UM was able to present a picture of stability and “momentum” than evaded several of its rival networks. And recent pitch cycle performance reports by RECMA have continued to place UM above even stellar performers PHD and Hearts & Science.
According to Lee, it has allowed the agency to be more “choiceful” in its new business strategy: “We’re not pitching for everything. There are some brands and businesses that are not right for us, and some clients that are looking for something different to what we can offer. We are choosing where to place our bets, and that is my strategy for 2017, to go after the brands that we think are a good fit for us.”
Despite having a global leadership team in place for four years, Lee says UM is determined not to stand still. He argues the agency has “sharpened” its data science capabilities, and brought those with new skills to the forefront of its client strategy.
“Agencies get caught in the data swamp. You can have data without insight, and we have invested a lot of time and effort and resources behind analytics, the data whisperers. We’ve hired biological scientists, crazy people who I would never expect to see in an agency, and not in the basement, but in the front room leading pitches,” he says.
“But we’ve kept our core, because that’s what makes us strong.”
“Some of the capabilities we need to bring in, frankly, we’ve had to go outside of Mediabrands and sometimes even IPG”
If consistency has been UM’s byword, then ‘change’ best sums up the past 18 months for the agency’s umbrella group, IPG Mediabrands. Under recently-appointed chief executive Henry Tajer, Mediabrands has assembled an almost entirely new global and regional management team, and set about developing its core resources – including last month’s launch of its Society social media practice.
For Lee, while the developments are “exciting”, he is not expecting UM’s clients to sense much of a change in approach: “We are the anchor. We are a big, red brand that clients come to for guidance and all things media and, increasingly, marketing.
“Some of the capabilities we need to bring in, frankly, we’ve had to go outside of Mediabrands and sometimes even IPG. So it is great to see Mediabrands creating these, and for us to be able to have a say in how those get created and manifested,” he says.
“[However], for many of our core clients, like Coca-Cola, J&J, Fiat Chrysler and Sony, all those capabilities are baked into the UM team. Sometimes it’s evident to clients there are separate practices, but mostly they just see a UM team that has been fed with this new innovation juice from Mediabrands.
“And I’m all for more of that, please,” he adds.