While many headlines focus on how technology is disrupting marketing, there's another area that is being disrupted: Talent. Over the years, I've seen a growing exodus of digital-savvy talent moving from media agencies to technology companies. And now, I'm one of them.
I'm a Millennial—more precisely, an "old" one. As I grew up, technology matured and became more and more an integral part of everyone's lives. As a tween, I started my digital journey using Prodigy (yes, pre-AOL!). I had a cell phone in high school. By college, so did everyone else. These early adoptions were just the start of many technology shifts that I've experienced since becoming an adult.
As a 2004 college graduate, I started my career after the Internet bubble had already burst. "New media," however, was still a thing, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. In my first job, at Atlantic Records, I worked in exciting new areas such as developing ringtones and a strategy for MySpace. I quickly realized the power of digital media, and saw that the music industry was struggling to adapt. I knew I had to go where the opportunities were growing and the innovation was happening: the agencies. The agencies were the key partners in building digital capabilities for brands. Digital media was new, confusing and complicated. Digital media was also the shiny object brands wanted to explore.
Once there, I loved my digital work at the agency. We designed, planned and executed innovative ideas for our clients, pushing for a budget to run digital video, mobile and social media as consumers' bandwidth and device penetration exploded.
For over 11 years, I focused on being a digital expert as the industry blossomed. I worked for some of the most recognized agencies, including Mediacom, Mediavest, and SapientRazorfish. I had fantastic training, mentorship and experiences working with household-name brands. As digital became required, not optional, the tools and technologies became more sophisticated and the ecosystem and partners more complex.
Another shift was taking place and technology was now disrupting marketing in a significant way. With data plentiful, audiences were divorced from media. The shift from media planning and buying to audience planning and buying changed the landscape.
The roles and scope of agencies' digital teams began to change too, as reliance on technology disrupted the model for our work. Silos between strategy and activation appeared in organizations. No longer was digital planning and buying being done together. The roles were now split between programmatic teams and agency trading desks. Many teams were losing control over strategy and access to more meaningful
insights due to the lack of knowledge about data and how audience buying works. I was determined to become a programmatic expert. Within a few years, there was no question that automation had changed the way marketers reach customers. By 2015, when I was training the talent at Razorfish to buy self-service, the most traditional media of all, TV and radio, were becoming available programmatically.
As this has been happening, the once-trusted partnership between marketers and agencies has come under pressure and is now dominated by fee and scope reductions, transparency issues and the rise of brands taking functions in-house. This is not a surprise. Anything that can be automated, will be. As walled gardens continue to disintermediate brands from their customers, technology is making it easier for marketers to go direct and take back control of their customer experiences. This Jan. 23 AdAge.com headline sums up this shift perfectly: "P&G plans to bring more media agency work in-house as agency fee cuts continue." When the world's largest ad spender makes a move to go direct, we need to rethink the status quo and question everything that's going on.
So I came to a crossroads. While I loved my agency experience, I felt the need to begin work at a technology company. In January 2018, I joined the product marketing team of Quantcast—an AI technology company that operates the world's largest audience behavior graph. I wanted to work side by side with cutting-edge technologists to help brands and their agency partners grow in the AI era.
I firmly believe there will always be an essential role for agencies. As people realize AI isn't just a buzzword, agencies will have a new opportunity to focus on the things that can't be automated—consumer insights, strategic planning and, of course, creativity. The idea of personalization to each consumer at scale is no longer theoretical.
AI-driven insights can genuinely start to fuse data with creativity. But make no doubt about it, a significant shift is happening now. And what happens to talent in an AI era will be one of the most critical issues for our industry to address.
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