Madison Avenue is a hotbed for creativity and innovation. The evolving nature of the digital world means new opportunities and platforms, and also means that agencies are constantly pushing the envelope to meet new client needs, develop new campaigns, and rise to new challenges from global competition, the economy, and the like. The constant change that agencies are moving with is what has propelled the creative industry forward all these years.

 The Way I See It

  • I see more agencies successfully melding creative and data to meet the needs of clients and deliver the type of advertising and marketing campaigns that build upon the new trove of consumer data to frame brands in a positive light.
  •  I see competition in all industry segments constantly growing, with new brands launching all over the world, and each agency being forced to develop creative that both trumps competition in its segment and also stands out for consumers in terms of advertising.

The Way The Industry Sees It

I sat down with Peter Krivkovich, Chairman and CEO of integrated marketing communications agency Cramer-Krasselt, to discuss the industry and the state of today’s agency.

Cramer-Krasselt’s business model is built on the idea of integration with a constantly growing range of disciplines, from creative to public relations to CRM. How do you think this notion of integration plays into your work?

Integration is a highly over-claimed word. The question is not whether everyone has access to those various disciplines – the better question is how does everyone have access to them. If they are run as separate profit centers, separate profit and loss statements (P&L) with the people heading them up having separate budgets or separate revenue-based bonuses, then it can’t possibly result in sustained unbiased contributions to a marketing solution. The former is more akin to the old corporate world conglomerates. And they didn’t work out that well – few synergies beyond a revenue pile-on. Integration plays into our work from inception. Because we are outcome – rather than output – driven, because we have no profit-center walls between people, we can have a diverse group of thinkers around the table minute one, with no discipline politics agenda biasing a solution. It’s never about simply checking boxes – it’s all about connection points that will drive results and that require multiple disciplines in constant motion and in constant sync.

For any creative firm, there is a constant pressure to show return on investment (ROI) and to harness data to drive results. How do you think data has changed the role of advertising?

Data has certainly made us smarter about the people with whom we need to connect. If we’re smarter about them we can get closer to them and be more relevant to them. And, of course, data – big or small – helps us optimize our approach in ways we never could before. We’re much more real-time now. It’s an exciting development, and really just beginning. But like integration, it’s also a terribly over-used word – and more importantly, data is a misused one.  Getting consumer information is no longer difficult, it’s prolific. Knowing which data leads to genuine actionable insights is. That’s where we concentrate our talent. Not on data compilation and output, but on what specifically will lead to an outcome for what’s next.

C-K’s tagline “Make friends, not ads.®” is one I’m intrigued by. What’s the philosophy behind this mission? How do you think the industry has changed over recent years and what do you think the role of advertising and communications is – and should be – in today’s business ecosystem?

Too much agency work today is disposable. Here today. Buzzed about overnight. Forgotten tomorrow. The premium too often is on short term noise. But what makes great work great is when it endures because at its core is a big, truth-heavy insight.  And when it’s delivered with the right execution, a big truth changes the conversation in a way that lasts.  It starts a relationship that is not fleeting. Not cool for a day or a week or a month.  Instead it creates a bond, an affinity that pays off in countless ways over and over again. Think Corona Extra and its massive sales increase. Think Porsche and its $100,000+ cars breaking all sales records three years in a row. Think Panera Bread and Patron, and the Johnsonville Brattender. Each a big truth powerfully told that cannot easily be stolen. A friend. Our entire focus is on making lasting friends for our brands, who keep on buying and buying, not on making ads.

Amidst all the merger activity in the advertising and marketing communications industry, C-K has remained independent and is now the second-largest independent agency in the U.S. What do you think about the state of the industry and how do you view Cramer-Krasselt’s independence through all of the consolidation? As in, what does it mean for clients?

We think independence means less and less to clients as time goes by. We enjoy it, because it makes our lives faster and simpler when we want to invest in new capabilities and talent. But clients don’t relate to it emotionally like they used to when we were smaller. That’s why our focus is more on how we work and the value system behind that. Make friends, not ads® is more important to us – in terms of how it impacts our culture, how we think about our clients’ problems, the structures and processes we insist on internally, and what we do every day – than the fact that we’re closely held. That’s what really has resonance with clients.

Your firm has grown organically to be the second largest independent advertising agency. What has been your secret sauce to allow the firm to continue to capitalize on the changes in the industry?

Our secret sauce, if we have one, is not to fall in love with how we do things for too long. In this rapidly changing communication dynamic, making friends that will hang with you over time means changing with them. We’re pretty much a new agency every five years. Today, thirty-eight percent of our business is digital – five years ago not as much. Core beliefs – and that, by the way, is the secret sauce – stay, in fact we are obsessive about them, but we work to reinvent around the edges all the time. And we’re not afraid to take that risk or make that investment. We believe that ultimately it will multiply our ability to deliver an outcome that results in sustainable success for our clients’ brands. We do that enough times, and our own growth will easily outpace those investments.

What is the coolest object in your office right now?

An 1890’s cast iron Art Nouveau style fireplace that I found years ago lying face down in a pile of dust on the fourth floor of an old antique dealer’s warehouse. I bolt it into the wall of every office I have ever had, pretend that it works and hang my favorite Thanka over it.

Ronald R. Urbach is the Chairman of leading advertising law firm Davis & Gilbert LLP