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Managing Marketing: Deploying Robots to Make Advertising

Guy_Wieynk

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Guy Wieynk is the global CEO of the digital agency, AnalogFolk and he shares his thoughts and ideas of working in digital agencies for the past three decades including AKQA, Publicis and now AnalogFolk on the opportunities for technology to be used in a positive way for marketers and their customers. This is the same philosophy that led to AnalogFolk Group developing With Robots, a platform for building with robots and automating with robots to eliminate the drudge in the advertising process and free agency people up to focus more on the high-value parts including problem-solving and creativity.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m having a conversation with Guy Wieynk, Global CEO for digital agency, AnalogFolk. Welcome, Guy.

Guy:

Hey Darren, how are you doing? Nice to meet you.

Darren:

It’s great to meet you too. And thank you for getting up early. I believe because I’m in Sydney, you are in London. So, what time of day is it?

Guy:

It’s not too early at the moment. It’s kind of 9:00 AM and I’m used to dealing with other time zones. So, I’m sorry that I’m pulling you up late in the evening. So, hopefully, I’m not keeping you up.

Darren:

So, Guy one of the reasons I wanted to have a chat was that I read recently that AnalogFolk has come into the world of robotics with a service called With Robots. Is this you are planning to replace the biggest expense that anyone has, which is their staff in an agency?

Guy:

Yeah, well, we have been busy, but I don’t think it’s about replacing people. I think it’s about getting people to do the right kind of tasks and solving some bigger industry issues.

Our belief is we need to use digital to make the analog world better. And I think there are some big problems that automation can solve. And I’m sure we’ll go into those, but the fact that 90% of programmatic advertising has zero creative customisation just seems wrong, and so we should fix it.

Darren:

Look, I started with that because I remember attending a talk that Sir Martin Sorrell gave where he said his biggest expense at WPP was the people. And if he could get rid of those crazy creative people, business would be so much easier.

I always thought that he was heading down this path of designing robots to do all the creative work, but we’ll get to it.

You have a really interesting career from an industry perspective because you did start out in media, but you very quickly, last millennium, jumped across to what was called interactive media but has become digital. Didn’t you?

Guy:

Yeah, yeah. I did an early jump and got a little lucky, and just happened to work with some great people. Started AKQA, I had a fantastic 17-year run. But yeah, in the early days, I was in media, started off in data — in fact, started off as a windsurfer instructor. So, who would know?

Got into databases, building databases then got into media and then jumped into digital. Because even though it was still the modem days, it was a long time ago, Darren, I have to admit, a long time ago. But yeah, I just got lucky, met some great people, and here we are today.

Darren:

So, starting your industry career so early — AKQA was one of the big leaders in those days,  really innovative, pushing the boundaries of what could be done on the internet, even in the dial-up days, wasn’t it?

Guy:

Yeah. AKQA, we were fortunate enough, I think we were working on the first car configurators, use car directories, sending SMS messages when a car was available. Yeah, it was great times, great company.

Still is a good company in all honesty. I mean, Ajaz and the team there have done a great job, so I wish them all the best. So yeah, just again, it was really interesting times, we were super young. You’ve got to imagine, we were in our twenties and it was just crazy, but it was brilliant. It was so entrepreneurial. It was brilliant.

Darren:

Yeah, I think because it was the wild west of marketing, wasn’t it? In those early days; people were really trying to understand the impact, how advertising would actually be applied to the internet. I mean, the internet was still relatively new at the turn of the millennium.

Guy:

Yeah, 1997, I think it was. So, yeah, it was super new. And we’d learn a huge amount in a very short period because don’t forget, you had the boom time, and obviously, we had the bust time. And that’s when we held our nerve and AKQA flourished from there, where a lot of our competitors fell by the wayside.

And loads of people ask how … and it’s not really for me to talk about the AKQA story anymore, but loads of people ask how we survived those times. And it was really simple. And we only worked with brands that our mom and dad had heard of, and that saw us through. So, that was the strategy.

Darren:

I love the simplicity of that. You know, the simplicity of let’s work with brands that our parents have heard of. It’s like Victoria Beckham wanting to be as famous as Persil.

Guy:

Yeah. There was just so much money flying around and we were just like, we couldn’t hire the people and it was like, wow, how are we navigating this? So, we decided to keep it simple and it worked.

Darren:

And then you made … sorry, Guy, you made a jump then across to Publicis. Because I noticed you were in London and you went to San Francisco and then New York with AKQA; was going back to Publicis London a bit of returning back to the base or was it just the opportunity?

Guy:

No, I mean, I can’t say returning back to the base, because I’d been at AKQA for 17 years. So, done a stint in the US, helped build out San Fran, built tech partnerships there, went to New York, got New York up and running. Came back, ran Europe, opened Portland, opened Tokyo.

So, it was a busy 17 years, but we’d sold the company to WPP and yeah, I just decided I wanted to try something new and wanted to see if I could apply what I’d learned at AKQA in a different environment; as in, could I take a different set of creative businesses and turn them around and help improve them.

So, I met Arthur Sadoun and Maurice Levy, and they said, “Look, if we give you some companies, do you want to have a crack at this?” And it was a bit more complex than that obviously.

And we gave it a go and again, had a great four years, learned a huge amount, learned that not everything I’d learned at AKQA was right. There wasn’t one process for all creative businesses culture, and different brands, it’s different. So, how do you get different cultures working together? Because AKQA was very single-minded and had a very singular culture.

Whereas if you got in a modern environment, a modern communications environment, you need collaboration with different skillsets and different types of people. So yeah, it was a very interesting time, very tough. Because you’ve worked somewhere for 17 years and then suddenly, you’re the new person and you’ve got to navigate this huge organisation, a hundred-odd thousand people or maybe slightly less, 82, I think it was at the time.

You got to navigate the organisation. It’s a French organisation, so you have to navigate that as well. So, it was interesting and again, really rewarding.

Darren:

Well, clearly, you did learn a lot because you then went on to set up Serum, which when I read your vision for Serum, I thought it was clearly a business almost before its time. And what I’m talking about is you said that talking with clients, they wanted an independent view of what technology and digital meant for their business.

And Serum was really set up as a problem-solving consultancy to connect the right talent into solving those problems. Is that a fair summation of your vision of Serum Consulting?

Guy:

It’s excellent, Darren. I wish you’d written the copy on my website; excellent summation. So, yeah, I’d had a good time at Publicis, but a favourite phrase of mine is availability isn’t a skillset.

And I just felt that clients needed more consulting and they shouldn’t be working in an environment where the lead voice around the table represented a practice that was really good at doing a certain thing — I’ll make it up, a TV ad, or building websites or whatever it is.

I just felt there’s a risk, you don’t do the right thing for the client, you do the right thing for your P&L. And actually, you don’t do the right thing for the client, you don’t do the right thing for the consumer, and you try and optimise to your P&L for short-term gains.

So, my view was, hey, I’ve got a great network, let’s go with more of a consulting slant and bring teams together as clients need them.

Darren:

I think this is a universal challenge that agencies are finding, is there was a time with the media commission where revenue in a way was looked after, because the more a client spent on media, the more the agency made.

But when we moved away from that with the fragmentation of media and the fact that so much of customer and consumer engagement can be done without paid media, especially through owned and earned assets — suddenly that model didn’t apply anymore.

So, money became an everyday thing for agencies. It wasn’t something in the background with the media commission, it became a core part of the business. And so, suddenly, are we doing this because it’s right for the client, or are we doing it because we’ve got to get paid for the work we do?

Guy:

Yeah. I mean the whole advertising landscape has just become more and more transparent, which is causing some issues for some and some benefits for others. I think the key advantage I’ve always had is I was born in a project landscape.

When I was at AKQA, all of our revenue was largely project-based. Okay, you do large programs of work that would last six, seven months but I was quite relaxed about it. We didn’t have those big kickbacks or whatever was going on in the past.

So, I feel quite relaxed in that environment. Whereas I know a lot of our competitors and a lot of the industry always harp on about the good old days when they were making money here, money there, deals here, etc. So yeah, I feel very comfortable and I’m not so worried about the fragmentation.

Darren:

Yeah, absolutely. Look, I do want to move on except that you moved from Serum and your business that just started to AnalogFolk largely because they saw value in what you were doing because you were bought, weren’t you?

Guy:

Yeah, yeah. I met the founders and they’re great guys and I’ve always admired AnalogFolk, the great culture, good company. And they just said, “Hey Guy, we like what you did at AKQA, we heard you’re a nice guy. We like what you’ve done at Serum. We like the kind of relationships you have with clients. We’re ready for the next stage of our journey, would you be interested in joining?”

And it’s a lovely business. I think Matt and Bill and, and Robo, and the rest of the crew always get a bit embarrassed, but it’s a very clean business, everyone’s working in the business, no external shareholders. It’s everyone just focused on building a single business.

So, it seemed a great opportunity and a great opportunity to build what I would call — or to evolve it into more of a creative and technology platform business that I believe modern marketers need.

Darren:

I’m always in a way, a bit discombobulated by the fact that it’s a digital agency called AnalogFolk. And I know Robo’s explained it to me a number of times. But just explain it to me one more time Guy; digital agency, AnalogFolk.

Guy:

I know. I’ve seen that interview and it did make me laugh. Darren, as you know, I’m quite kind of short and to the point.

So, the way I look at it is the founders of AnalogFolk had a massive foresight into the issues the industry were going to have because technology isn’t good or bad, it’s how you use it or how it is used that is good or bad.

So, really, it’s using digital to make the analog world better, it is about helping people and brands ensure they use digital technology in the right way to make a good and positive impact on the world, hence AnalogFolk.

Darren:

And every time it’s explained to me, I love it, Guy.

Guy:

Yeah, it’s still not working, Darren? Oh, I like the idea. I really do. I think it’s great. And you just look at technology has had some very damaging impacts on our society. You only have to look at the recent reports that have just come out around suicide and teenagers.

So, we have to use these things in a responsible and meaningful way to improve things, not to make them worse.

Darren:

Look it seems interesting as well because I find a lot of clients, marketers are getting confused about what it means to be a digital agency. And what I mean by that is it’s been 20 years now, and a lot of what was seen as traditional television-driven agencies, of course, have built out their digital capabilities.

So, in a world where everyone says they can do digital marketing and advertising, what does it actually mean to be a digital agency?

Guy:

Yeah, I think that’s a fair question because digital is ubiquitous. I think the thing just to bear in mind is you say that and having worked in different types of creative businesses, I can tell you one story. And that story is I had to do one of those big kind of meetings with the big execs. And I had to show the work that had come out of my agency, or the agencies I was looking after.

And everyone showed their big shiny TV ads. And they were great. And I showed some banner ads. And you should have seen the look of disdain of everyone around that table. And so, that’s it at the end of the day — I completely get that a load of traditional agencies are moving into digital, I get it. But is their heart in it? I question that.

Darren:

Look, and what we’ve started talking about to clients is we call them technology agencies. And what we mean by that is an agency that can talk to marketing and to the IT department in each of their own languages, but really understand the consumer better than ever. So, that’s what we’re starting, to not call them digital agencies because everyone’s digital.

But there are a lot of really good agencies that have a solid base in understanding the technology because they have to understand the technology to be able to apply it in the most appropriate way. What do you feel about that sort of distinction?

Guy:

Yeah, I completely agree. I mean the thing that I think puts AnalogFolk in a different realm is our creative teams embrace technology. They embrace things like automation, they embrace consumer content. They’re welcoming of those technologies, not hostile towards them.

So, yeah, you have to have multiple voices in your organisation and you have to be able to navigate talking to the CTOs, talking to the CIOs, CEOs, etc.

So, yeah, it’s imperative and often it’s quite difficult for smaller companies because you can become too broad and then have no depth and equally, it’s very challenging because some brands will just by default think you’re a certain type of company and therefore, can’t have that other conversation.

So, it’s still a complex world, but you have to have, I believe, in this world, you have to be able to have conversations across the C-suite.

Darren:

So, Guy, on the basis of our conversation. I’m starting to now reframe this With Robots, and it’s built with robots and automate with robots, I saw with the two sorts of streams of work that AnalogFolk had launched.

Guy:

Yes.

Darren:

In that, this is absolute proof of your comfort with technology because a lot of agencies really struggle with the concept of automating, even whether it’s AI, robotics or whatever — automating a process that in the hollow ground of Madison Avenue or the great Portland streets in London, it’s a process that’s rather magical and can’t be automated, and can’t have an AI applied to it.

Guy:

Yeah. I get it. And I think it’s easy to jump to the wrong endpoint because if you look at when we were building the proposition and when we acquired the technology platform, our creative council, which is all of our ECDs around the world, we’re fully behind it. Because it isn’t about replacing creativity, let’s be really, really clear.

It’s about doing the work that the creative team shouldn’t be doing. So, effectively, if you’ve ever had to work on an 80,000-variant campaign for a retailer, the last thing you want to do is have your production team manually changing all the assets.

So, for me, it’s about how do we ensure that our creative teams make sure that the idea is amazing. When I look at the actual technology, it’s about how do you make sure the core asset is what the creative team wants? And then how do we use technology to effectively optimise that asset to ensure the consumer gets the right image with the right model, with the right copy, and the right language, and the asset looks amazing.

So, it’s like take all of that away, focus on the idea, and what we call the master template, but focus on the master asset. And we went down that direction.

Darren:

It’s interesting because this is absolutely where we see the opportunity. We’ve been tracking and measuring scopes of work for clients and their agencies for 20 years. In 2005, the average brand produced around 200 pieces of work per year. In 2019, the average brand was producing 3 to 5,000 plus pieces of work a year.

Now, this is all driven by digital and social media because they’re huge consumers of content. You know, these daily Facebook updates, Instagram posts and the like. Is this really where we should be spending agency time manually putting together all of those combinations?

Guy:

I don’t think we should. And I don’t think it’s particularly rewarding for creative people, because all you’re doing is reforming assets. And you have to do it because loads of people say, “Oh, well maybe we don’t need to do it,” but 66% of consumers feel that advertising is repetitive.

So, 60% of consumers have also not bought products because of a poor design experience. So, you’ve done it, you’ve got to focus on hyper-personalisation — I’m sorry, using another buzz word that I hate, but you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to have the right model, the right copy, the right product. I don’t want amazing talents to be worrying about that. I want to use technology to do that.

Darren:

There’s also a trend that’s impacting agencies because clients are producing or demanding the production of a lot more outputs, deliverables, executions, but their budgets haven’t increased exponentially to match the exponential demand.

And yet, if an agency is still using the same manual process, and I call it a cottage industry approach, where every piece of work starts from the beginning and one person takes it through to the end, there’s no ability to scale there.

I’ve really been quite amazed at how slow the industry’s been to actually pick up on this idea of automation, of the sort of production part of the process. And I’ve had conversations with agency, people that have said to me, “But don’t you understand Darren, that production is a creative process.”

Guy:

So, I agree with them. I think production to a certain point, to your, again, your hero asset, is a creative process. The adaptation of that asset again, I believe should be automated. And I can see the demand in clients. I can see the demand in agencies. A lot of agencies are using our proprietary technology within their tech stacks to improve their production capabilities. And I’m sure they’re not passing all those cost benefits onto their clients.

So, I think everyone realises it. And if they don’t, then well, up to them, what can I say? But you need more assets and more channels than ever before. And there are quite a lot of people doing it in kind of stills and in HTML, but not many people do it with video. And so, what I’m really chuffed about with our technology, is we can do it in the video.

So, much like this podcast, syncing between video and voice as we discussed earlier. But yeah, I’m super excited about the future of automation and I think it just allows the creative teams to focus on the core craft rather than worrying about optimisation and doing a million banner assets, they just don’t want to do it.

Darren:

And Guy, where can you see this going? Because there’s also a lot of parts in the agency world and the agency process that are incredibly manual and laborious, like conference reports and account reconciliations and things like that. Can you see that this same approach of automation and applying AI and robotics could be applied to a lot more of the advertising process beyond production?

Guy:

Yes. We’ve got a few products within AFG. AFG is the holding group for AnalogFolk. And I’m quite particular — I think you have to be very careful with product development because it’s really easy to try and do loads of things. And then you’re half-baked in loads of things. So, I’m quite particular with our product teams to make sure they have a very focused point of view.

So, with our automation platform right now, it’s like let’s just make multi-variant advertising as good as it can be. If I look at our … we’ve got an AI product working within a bank that effectively reads websites to look for design infringements. And then you plug the AI into your production process to stop faulty designs from going out because it’s all very well fixing them, but it all always costs money to fix them. So, you need to stop them from going out in the first place.

So, we’ve used AI to help influence that process. And that’s a very focused product. So, yes, I think it can be broad. That’s not necessarily my job. My job is to make sure my automation products are really good. And my AI products to ensure that brands are represented in the right way are really good.

And you can see how automation and then my brand management AI tools, you can see how they might converge, but it’ll always be for the betterment of the consumer experience rather than becoming a B2B solution for agencies. That’s our product roadmap for now.

Darren:

I guess I was asking that question more, not so much for your particular product development, but more from the point of view that I can see anything that allows people to really focus their energies on where the real value is added and free them up from the mundane or the routine has to be a positive thing.

Because we know that the industry suffers from long working hours and people working weekends and all sorts of ridiculous things that have been happening, if we could eliminate all that drudgery so that people could really focus on creativity and strategy and thinking about how a client’s business could be performing better, that has to be the thing, doesn’t it?

Guy:

Oh, sorry. I completely agree with you. God, I cannot wait until we get rid of timesheets and we use AI to effectively deal with that. And I know there are some great tools out there. But no, I agree. I would love our people to be focused on doing the interesting part of all of our jobs, rather than worrying about the admin.

Darren:

I did have a counterpoint of view put to me; how are people going to learn the business if they don’t start with doing the most mundane jobs over and over again? And I’m going, wow, that sounds like a baby boomer to me. Sorry, Karen.

Guy:

Yeah. I understand you have to learn the ropes, but learn the ropes in craft, not administration.

Darren:

Exactly. So, what’s been the uptake and what’s been the reaction to With Robots?

Guy:

With Robots, thank you. It’s been great. We’ve had a good feel … I mean, it’s a new business. Yeah. It’s a new, new business, so let’s see how things go. But so far, the industry feedback has been great. As you know, we launched another company early in the year. So, for our size, we’re doing quite well. We launched two new companies this year.

Darren:

You’ll become a holding company, Guy.

Guy:

Huh? No, we’re not a holding company.

Darren:

You’ll become a holding company.

Guy:

Yeah. Maybe, maybe. I mean at the end of the day, we have our creative services business, we have a content business and we have a build and automation business. And the build and automation, yeah, again, it’s early days. We’re a few weeks in, but the pipeline looks great. We seem to be hitting the right conversation points.

We seem to be solving some market challenges. I’ve got stats coming out the wazoo to back that up. So, let’s see. But I’m feeling good. And as I said, the other business is flying as well, Untold Fable, and that’s got a platform behind it. So, we’ve built all these things and that’s the joy of being an independent business, I guess. We can just build stuff, see if it works.

Darren:

Well. And this for me, is proof that when you call yourselves digital agencies, you really do have a deep understanding of technology because you are applying technology, not just to your client’s businesses and your client’s problems, but also, to your own challenges internally, which I love.

I’m also excited by this Guy, because it was about seven years ago, I wrote a blog post or an article that said that advertising needed to embrace the automotive approach. And I’ll just share with you the idea that the automotive industry spends a large amount of time and effort designing a prototype.

They do research, they actually build the prototype, they test it. And when it’s got all the ticks, then it goes into a production line that has been optimised to produce as many different variations as the customer wants, as quickly and cheaply as possible to the quality that the customer expects.

So, in the days of Henry Ford going, you could have the Model T in any colour as long as its black are gone. I can have yellow or orange upholstery with bright blue Juco paintwork. And it can be made for me off the production line because it’s automated because they’ve embraced technology and embraced robotics.

But they haven’t cut short the development in the first place. And I see this as exactly what you were saying before about replacing creativity. And we’ve all read where they’ve put an AI against a human being to come up with a creative idea and it’s a gimmick, it’s a gimmick.

Guy:

I agree. I’m glad you emphasize the quality aspect because for me, that’s really important. And again, it’s really hard kind of keeping these conversations super strategic and not executional. But again, if you look at the way we deal with assets, the key thing is rather than building an asset bottom-up, so this is your banner, click here has to be here.

We’re not interested in that. It’s like as a creative individual, upload what you think is the perfect thing. Our software then reads that perfect asset and then will tell you what you can optimise. So, for us, it’s about you’ve got to have the quality because otherwise, you’ll just end up with a whole load of crap programmatic advertising that we’ve already got, and I don’t wanna make the problem worse.

So, I’m glad you emphasise quality because for me, yeah, it’s quality, and then how do you optimise that hero thing, that hero asset, that hero TV ad, that hero social ad, that hero Facebook … whatever it is; how do you optimise the perfect thing that the creative team are happy with?

I do not want it to be about using AI to come up with ideas or design banners or anything — design social posts. I’m not interested in that.

Darren:

Look, Guy, this has been a terrific conversation. I really appreciated you making the time. Thank you so much for joining me on Managing Marketing and sharing with me where you are taking robotics in advertising.

Guy:

Oh, thank you, Darren. Thanks for your time.

Darren:

I do have a question just before you go and that is considering your journey so far, what’s the next big thing in advertising that we can solve with technology?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media, and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

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    Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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