Amanda Farmer is Managing Director at the newly-merged VMLY&R,responsible for implementing the strategic direction of the agency, ensuring that commercial and operational targets are met. Her extensive experience includes working with Nestlé, Diageo, International Olympic Committee, Cadbury, Heineken and ASDA. In this Front Foot Member’s Profile, she explains why ‘creativity is the last creative advantage’, how the role of the agency is changing, and what ‘freedom’ means for a huge player in the advertising space.
VMLY&R is a powerhouse brand – what is its key philosophy?
We live in a world of radical transparency where replication is cheaper and easier than ever. This new landscape had disrupted our playing field completely, and this is reflected in our philosophy as an agency.
We believe that creativity is the last competitive advantage. Creative people come up with ideas and ideas matter. Ideas can make brands a company’s most valuable asset. It takes creativity to come up with market disrupting ideas. It is not efficiency that drives growth; it is ideas. Ideas create markets.
For those of us who run agencies, the most important thing we can do is be ready for creativity when it happens. That means building a culture where all voices can be heard, and no one is afraid to share their thoughts. It means a culture where it is perfectly acceptable to change everything just before a deadline because someone’s had an even better idea.
At the time of the merger Mark Read said: “VMLY&R will be a powerful brand experience offering and a core agency brand for WPP. VML and Y&R have distinct and complementary strengths spanning creative, technology and data services that make them a perfect match” – what are those strengths and how do they set VMLY&R apart?
When people ask about the ‘whys’ behind the merging of the VML and Y&R brands. We say: ‘it gives us freedom’. It gives us the freedom to be truly people-focused in our approach to creativity. Because, as we all know, real people in the real world don’t care about channels or platforms. They don’t say, “I saw this brilliant digital idea” or “have you seen this experiential thing”. They just interact with, and use, the stuff they like.
Our value is that we create connected brands. And that’s because our job is to make our clients’ brand their company’s most valuable asset, and there is a direct correlation between how connected a brand is and its value.
We better understand consumers in order to better connect with them and, at VMLY&R, we now have the freedom to bring our ideas to life wherever they need to live to help fix business challenges. We connect through creativity, which we are now free to apply to any part of the consumer journey and which we use to get to truly big ideas which can work wherever they need to.
How has the role of ‘the agency’ changed over the past few years, and what trends do you see being carried forward for the next few years?
The agency landscape is shifting in many interesting ways – but I believe this is in direct response to the world of our clients changing dramatically too. 70% of brands are stagnant or in decline, 50% of brands in the S&P 500 didn’t exist in 2000, and CMOs have the shortest tenure in the C-Suite.
Technology is beautifully disruptive. We are living through a fourth industrial revolution which will be more impactful than any of those that preceded it.
This age of disruption has seen clients demand more than just advertising from creative agencies. This has given rise to the ‘cagencies’ we see today, with huge consultancies like Accenture and Deloitte making steady inroads into acquiring creative shops as clients look for more definable structures in the face of tightening budgets.
However, the big assumption being made is that creative agencies being swallowed by consultancies is the only direction of travel. At VMLY&R we think it is the wrong way around and that it is better to bring consultancy into the creative process where it can add depth and rigour to ideas.
What is the value of a Front Foot membership to agencies, brands, publishers and everyone involved in the club?
These are tumultuous but ultimately exciting times for advertising. As our industry evolves and shifts its shape, organisations like the AA provide reliable support and act as a voice for advertisers, media owners and agencies alike are truly invaluable.
Front Foot is an unrivalled network for advertising; forging tangible connections between its members, constructing consistently captivating research and proactively generating advocacy for the big issues that will affect all of our businesses. As we approach Brexit, I believe that groups like Front Foot which champion the place of advertising in the UK economy and emphasise its positive role within society have never been more valuable.