media update’s Adam Wakefield spoke to VML Global chief marketing officer Beth Wade and VML South Africa head of Cape Town, Ben Wagner, about the birth of VML South Africa, and how the new agency continues to make an impact on the market.

Provide an all-encompassing view for clients

It is not easy to create one single minded organisation, from four businesses with different focal points. Wade and Wagner say the decision to remake VML’s local operations into what is now VML South Africa is reflective of the change happening within advertising itself.

Wade says VML emphasises the connected consumer experience, where the organisation’s capabilities are able to “inspire and transform brands to end points of inspiration, engagement, and commitment  with our consumers”.

Wagner says, “Clients are demanding a single view of their brand, rather than a fragmented one, and we’ve already got that relationship on Colgate, on Edgars, and on Amstel with Y&R. Bringing that into one coherent, cohesive offering makes so much sense for the clients and that’s really what we get out of it.”

AI is special, but a tool agencies and clients must carefully use  

The impact artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics is making in the marketing industry, among all others, is acute.

Wagner says analytics precedes the need for AI at this current moment, but without a doubt AI will be a “huge factor” going forward. AI is another tool in what Wagner calls an “increasingly wide tool set” that the modern CMO needs to understand and know how to use to build value for the data being gathered, and the product or service they are delivering.

Wade notes that whenever VML interacts with a new technology or a factor they need to be conscientious of within the market, it does not become an element that is built separately from the agency.

“It’s something that we fold into our capabilities, so it becomes yet another piece in our tool set,” she says.

The distinction between lines in advertising is increasingly artificial

Wade and Wagner, as they speak, do not just refer to how the customer interacts with a brand, but also how those within the agency interact with each other, and how the agency interacts with their clients.

Wagner says with all of the local properties under one roof, they now have the ability to truly create a connected brand experience for their clients.

“We are also building in huge efficiencies to create a connected brand. As an example, Colgate, Edgars, and Amstel were previously serviced by two teams: Y&R, and NATIVE VML,” he says.

“Now, with VML South Africa, we remove those inefficiencies and impediments that you get having multiple teams. A single view is a huge benefit to clients. In fact, they are incredibly happy we are doing that. We certainly see that as a huge competitive advantage.”

All elements of the VML group being brought into a single entity, Wagner says, is also symbolic of how the “lines” that divide advertising, be it above-the-line, below-the-line, through-the-line, and online, are becoming “increasingly artificial”. Advertising disciplines can no longer work in silos or separately.

VML South Africa and its staff are guided by values

Wade and Wagner agree merging different agencies into a single entity is a complex process. A key stakeholder in this process is staff. Ensuring staff are on board with change relies on communicating with them, and leveraging the organisation’s values, which Wagner says is called the “NATIVE way”, which embodies eight NATIVE values at a local level.

“It’s a way of being. It’s a way of acting, and it’s a way of on-boarding new staff members that become part of the NATIVE way, and that we aren’t losing in the new structure,” he says.

“The NATIVE way will be the inward facing brand because that’s what we built from the onset. We measure our culture against our 8 core values. Basically, our performance individually gets measured against those values.”

An organisation’s values, Wagner says, are the “spine of the organisation’s culture, which has really allowed us to grow a culture where we have people boomeranging back from other agencies because they realise the culture here is unique, but also one they want to be part of”.

Wade says the passion for what those within VML do, and the culture that exists in its different offices, is what makes VML a great place to work. Communication is central to that.

“Communication is making sure people feel comfortable, they know what is going to happen, and it’s a huge imperative for us to make sure VMLers around the world understand what’s next and what’s going on. It’s just something inherent to us.”

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Artificial intelligence will play an important role in shaping the advertising and marketing industry, and was one of the major topics at the 2018 IMC Conference. Read more in our article, Three learnings from the IMC Conference.