Getting your agency in 'automate shape'
A view from Lori Hiltz

Getting your agency in 'automate shape'

Havas Media North America's CEO offers four ways media agencies can help their people thrive in a programmatic world

If you attended Advertising Week or any other industry event over the past year, you couldn’t avoid hearing the phrases "big data" and "programmatic buying" a few hundred times.

As the CEO of a media agency, that’s music to my ears. But as the quantity and sophistication of our data and research grows and we automate our buying practices more and more, I think it’s important to remember that people are still (and will continue to be) at the heart of this business.

Yes, it’s extremely important to continue asking questions about what the next step is in programmatic buying, but it’s just as important to find new and effective ways to organize our agencies that will help make the most of the people asking those questions.

Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to build an agency from the ground up. The result is a mix of unique and entrepreneurial brands specializing in their respective areas.

Our goal was to create an environment that maximizes all of that data and new technology without reducing our talent to button-pushers. We had to ask ourselves, "How do you position your people to thrive in an increasingly automated environment?" It was a challenge — one that taught me a lot of important lessons — but our new system is working well. Here are the four most important things we’ve learned along the way:

1. The most effective way to cope with change is to help make it. And you can’t make change without a little friction.

Change is a scary thing, and my preferred approach for it is diving right in. In this case, that means pushing people outside their comfort zones to try new things and learn new skills. For the first 12 months in the job, if I walked into a room and people didn’t flinch a little – I wasn’t doing things right.

2. Great teams are built around motivated individuals who should be trusted.

Big data allows us to test and fix problems in real time, which can easily become a crutch. Data and research is great – essential, even – for a client’s marketing plans. But leaning on it too heavily can lead to missing the great outside-the-box solution that’s going to win you new business or blow an existing client’s mind. Those types of ideas come from creative thinking, and you don’t get there without trusting your people enough that they’re not afraid to fail.  

3. Face-to-face conversation is still the best form of communication.

Don’t text, don’t email, don’t Gchat — talk to people. Face-to-face conversation is the most powerful communication tool we have. My boss is in Paris, and I make it a point to fly there several times a month. Of course the shopping is great — but we do it because it helps keep things moving swiftly. That works the other direction, too: I have an open-door policy and encourage all of our people to seek me out with questions and comments as often as possible.

4. You need self-organizing teams.

Birds of a feather tend to flock together, so allow people to migrate to others in your organization who can help heighten their talents. This starts by encouraging (or forcing, if you have to) daily cooperation among clients; planners; buyers; media partners; procurement; and — most importantly – researchers. Once that’s underway, people will thank you forever. We’re seeing unplanned and unexpected partnerships popping up from all walks of media life – to incredible results.

Lori Hiltz  is CEO of Havas Media North America.