Odette van der Haar. Picture: SUPPLIED
Odette van der Haar. Picture: SUPPLIED

The biggest challenge facing advertising agencies today is that they are approaching business in the way they did before the economic recession, despite a significantly changed landscape, says Odette van der Haar, the incoming CEO of J Walter Thompson Johannesburg. Instead, she says, clients are looking for agility, dynamism and bespoke solutions to complex business problems that serve as quick fixes with long-term benefits – and agencies need to understand this and act accordingly.

“Gone are the days where creative content wows clients,” says Van der Haar. “Clients need creative solutions to their business problems. Agencies need to shift from being only creative content generators to creative business solutions generators.”

Creative content is not enough to contribute tangibly to the bottom line of clients, she says. Unless agencies adapt and embrace the need for creativity in every aspect of the business – not just in content generation – they will not survive.

Van der Haar, who leaves her position as CEO of the Association for Communication & Advertising to take the reins at J Walter Thompson Johannesburg in July, says the economic climate has made clients risk averse. Adding to their challenges is the fact that keeping abreast of the digital space and its metrics for measuring return on investment is a job in itself.

However, she is a firm believer that digital marketing should never be a standalone marketing strategy. “It is an agency’s responsibility to help transition clients’ marketing strategies from traditional marketing – which is severely fragmented – to integrated marketing and communications. This can only be achieved by incorporating diverse skills sets and working more collaboratively to track and measure the success of campaigns.”

The big take-out

Advertising agencies need to understand that clients are looking for agility, dynamism and bespoke solutions with long-term benefits.

Every campaign, she says, should be created with a focus on effectiveness and return on investment in order to delivery brand safety, and this requires a wide range of skills and global expertise.

The digital evolution means that the chief marketing officer and chief information officer budgets are becoming more and more intertwined, says Van der Haar, adding that big tech and consulting firms such as Deloitte and Accenture will become a threat to traditional advertising agencies that don’t understand digital marketing and technology.

As digital advertising continues to encroach on traditional advertising budgets, and companies such as Facebook and Google come under fire for their operational models, Van der Haar says she agrees with J Walter Thompson CEO Tamara Ingram, who maintains that the “fief” model – or “walled gardens” – these companies have created to give preference to their own tools while limiting or restricting third-party systems, will have to cease to exist.

Brands, she says, will be rethinking how they integrate digital advertising into their strategies. “Brands aren’t daft – they know they cannot afford to approach long-term online marketing or advertising with their heads in the sand,” says Van der Haar.