There’s a massive collision happening right now, a violent convergence of ideas and business models that’s changing the agency world almost overnight. And while it is one hell of a mess, it’s also a tremendous opportunity for those smart enough to recognize how agencies are being reshaped, and what that opens up.
That’s the gist of a presentation I gave to a couple student classes and groups at Elon University in Burlington, North Carolina two weeks ago. A short version is available on Slideshare, and is embedded immediately below.
The basic idea behind the collision is this: as the media world radically shifts thanks to the rise in digital and in particular the emergence of social media as a consumer-driven force, smart marketers are starting to shift their budgets to align with the new reality. Agencies of all stripes – from advertising and creative to PR, Media, Digital, DM and on – are in turn chasing those dollars.
As a result we find PR agencies with fully baked in-house digital shops, and formerly TV-heavy ad agencies with more full-time social media strategists than the largest digital group. We find a surge in acquisitions of speciality social media agencies, who find themselves by foresight or happy accident sitting square in the most lucrative sweet spot.
From a client-side marketer’s perspective, things are both wildly confusing – “why is my PR agency pitching their HTML5 expertise again?” – and loaded with choice, variety, and cost pressures working in their favor. They might put out an RFP for a social media campaign, and wind up with a final pitch group consisting of a niche social agency, a full-service (and large) digital agency, and a global PR agency’s digital group squaring off against their own current advertising agency-of-record.
What’s stressful for the agency new biz guys is heaven for the clients.
All this is radically reshaping the agency world, as traditional lines between agency specialities are blurring. For smart, digitally- and socially-savvy aspiring employees like those I met with at Elon, the opportunities this chaos creates are endless. The market for their skills has grown dramatically, and no longer are they locked into traditional career paths (“oh, she’s an ad creative”).
Their expertise, as it grows, has the potential to be attractive to every type of agency that’s chasing those digital and social client budgets. Which is to say, every agency that intends to survive past the next 5 years or so.
The next 12-24 months in my view will see this collision in the digital and social center accelerate, amplifying both the confusion and opportunity I mentioned above. Should be fun.
If you attend conferences for any reason, you know that almost nothing is worse than sitting through a bad presentation. Except of course, if you suddenly find yourself giving one. Then what?
As a presenter, there are a number of ways you can quickly find yourself at the wheel of a train wreck, from technical problems to a combative or skeptical audience. A presentation can wreck quickly, such as when you realize you brought the wrong slides or the audio goes completely dead, or in agonizing slow motion such as when you come to the dreaded realization that the content or your presentation style is going over with the audience like a ton of lead.
Regardless of why or how, your job as the presenter is to grab the wheel and will the train back on the tracks. You owe it to the people who took time out of their day to give you the privilege of their attention to make it work.
Which is exactly what I did not do in one particular presentation. My particular train wreck involved having prepared content that ended up being a complete mismatch with the interests and background of the audience. That become glaringly evident right from the start, but rather than toss the deck and adapt on the fly, I forged ahead in the hope that somewhere in the slides I’d find some common ground with the group arrayed in front of me.
The end result was a disinterested audience who asked just a couple of cursory questions at the end. While I hope they took away something positive – some insights or understandings they didn’t have before – I doubt many walked out eagerly waiting to hear when and where I might be speaking next.
The kicker is I because the mismatch was clear early on – I asked some hand-raiser questions like usual at the outset to gauge their skills and interests – I had an opportunity to toss the deck and just talk to their interests. To do that takes both some guts and a load of confidence, and while I feel pretty good about where I stand on both fronts, I still didn’t take that plunge.
What lessons did I learn that I’ll take into every presentation from now on?
- Do your audience homework: This is where my presentation initially failed. I thought I had done the homework, but a combination of errors led me to prepare to speak to an audience that looked very little like the one I found sitting in front of me. Be crystal clear with the conference organizers on the background of those attending. Get a list in advance with names, companies, and job titles at the least. See if you can do a pre-conference informal survey on Twitter, through the organizer’s blog or e-newsletter, etc. Understand the context surrounding your presentation – is it part of a larger conference? What’s the focus? Who else is presenting, and is there any overlap with your proposed content?
- Ask the audience questions up front: Before you launch into your opening story, pause and ask a few questions to validate the results of your homework. Find out who they are, what they do, how familiar they already are with your subject, and gauge what they might want to hear or learn in the time allotted. After all it’s better to know up front, than a week later in a horrible post-event survey. In my case, I actually did ask these questions, but the results surprised me to such an extent that they threw me off and I failed to properly react.
- Most critically – Be willing the dump the deck, and always have a backup plan: What if you find yourself in my situation, where you quickly discover that the presentation you’re ready to give is not at all what the audience is interested in hearing? Have a plan – or at least a broad sense of some options – for what you would do. Can you cherry pick a subset of slides that would make for an interesting – if different than planned – presentation? Have you mentally prepped which slides you might pick? If not, do you have the knowledge and confidence to go completely off-script and have an engaging, no-slide talk with the audience?
By all means rock your slides (I highly recommend reading Garr Reynolds’ blog and books), but the most beautiful and informative slides in the world are useless if they don’t convey information the audience is interested in hearing.
Obviously do your audience homework in advance, which is pretty much standard advice for presenting to a group of any size. But if you find yourself in my situation, where your audience still isn’t the one you were expecting, get ready to do toss the script out the window, be flexible, and focus on creating an interesting and positive experience for everyone in the room. Do everything you can to keep that presentation train on the rails.