Author Archives: Alex Kniess

About Alex Kniess

University of Oregon senior, AdAge blogger, student advertiser, learner, dreamer, insomniac, geek, aspiring racecar driver

The future of advertising agency integration

The rate of innovation within the digital and interactive realms is currently outpacing the rate at which industries are evolving. With these new technologies come new media, new services, and new revenue models – all of which are impacting how people are interacting with media, the environment and each other. So how are advertising agencies adapting to the rapidly changing environment? This was the topic of discussion for a packed room of digital, traditional, and PR agencies alike as we all humbly tried to suggest solutions.

The discussion was moderated by Pete Lerma of Click Here, an interactive agency within The Richards Group. Before we opened up to discussion, Pete outlined three basic models that current advertising agencies use to deal with the clients’ demands for digital solutions to their business problems:

Generalist Model: Traditional agencies convince clients they can do digital when they can’t. They then use current talent to create watered down digital solutions. The advantages are that the message is consistent and there is one point of contact.

One agency, two distinct groups: This model requires both a traditional as well as an interactive group working under the same umbrella. Business is shared, and the two groups work together seamlessly.

Multiple agencies: This model uses one traditional agency and niche digital agencies are outsourced according to needs. Usually the client or holding company will decide how the partners are chosen. The biggest disadvantage is territory battles that typically arise.

Although these models are great to study, that’s about all they are good for. The needs of clients to meet the demands of innovation don’t require a model; they simply require great work. So, the model doesn’t matter. What matters is the mindset of your employees.

Those who think they are traditional will become obsolete unless they begin to innovate their thinking to meet the changes around them. The future advertising model is the exact same thing as it is today. But instead of holding talent proficient in traditional, the model will hold talent that can do it all.

Inherently though, this futurist projection has its challenges. Some projects in interactive agencies require teams of 20+ programmers alone. Can agencies really sustain a workforce of that many developers that may lay idle for half of the year? Not now they can’t. So they are forced to outsource talent and in so doing begin to run into the expected culture, ownership and creative hurdles. Maybe the solution is that production now has to program as well as everything else? I certainly don’t have the answers.

One thing is for certain though: Unless ‘traditional’ agencies embrace the skill set necessary to compete in the evolving market, then the digital-only agencies will easily begin to implement more traditional elements to their campaigns. When that happens, the traditional agency will just be a model to study, and the digital agency will quickly and quietly slip into their former place at the top.


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The Digital Cloud

This is not a post about cloud computing. This is a commentary on digital culture. On this very blog, we wrote: “we come armed with laptops, digital cameras, flip video recorders, Internet accessible phones and a desire to learn from everyone and everything we encounter.” So after a week of lugging all this tech around, blogging about tweeting… tweeting about blogging, and always having our noses up against the screens of our laptops, it feels weird to unplug. The Digital Cloud has descended upon us, it’s dark confines obscuring the vision of the real world.

There is no arguing that Twitter makes connecting with those around you easier and more beneficial. But at what cost? When does it become time to just unplug, go on a hike, or lay in the sun? After a week at SXSW it would seem that there is never time for that. All of these technologies that were created to make our lives better, easier, and more productive have changed our lives forever.

I’m by no means an expert at Twitter. In fact, I’m not an expert at anything (that’s the point, I’m a student!) But after about eight months of tweeting, I’m beginning to get a pretty solid grasp on it’s ups and its downs.

The thing I like most about it is that it’s an incredibly easy way to constantly pick the brains of people you think are interesting. Imagine being at a table with 400 of the people who most inspire you. As they stare back at you, their glances bring with them everything that’s on their minds, everything they think is interesting. You can then choose any or all of these thoughts and ideas to engage them in a conversation. If it weren’t for Twitter putting you all at the same table, you would never know about this hot new digital trend, what keeps your idol up at night, or that your favorite agency head is hiring. That’s Twitter. That’s the fluffy cloud of connectivity.

What Twitter is not, though, is a replacement for real-world interactions. The more followers you get, the more used to updating you become, the sooner your ego starts to take over. Suddenly you have goals to get more followers like you’ve become the leader of a cult. With this obsession also comes the feeling that every 140 characters must be insightful, poetic gold that is re-tweeted 100 times.

So there you find yourself, sitting next to the guy who would have hired you, staring at your laptop and tweeting in the middle of a presentation. Bruce Sterling calls this the death of the audience. He says that you are so disengaged when you are tweeting and live-blogging and chatting that you have removed the most crucial aspect of authorship. Without an audience, nothing can be authored. But it can be good for presentations too. Twitter allows real-time feedback and questions to the speakers, enabling them to modify their presentation to become more relevant and engaging.

So I’m not suggesting that you delete your Facebook account, lose all your Twitter followers, or stop sharing information. What I’m suggesting is a little more moderation. 90% of the time I embrace this world and enjoy the role it plays in my personal and professional development. The other 10% is spent running as far away as possible from the digital cloud, cherishing real-world experiences. Shifting these percentages closer to the center, and embracing the benefits of both the technological revolution and the need for human interaction, will allow us to grow within the current framework of The Digital Cloud and preserve our sanity.

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Free legos to play, build and experiment with

More free legos!, originally uploaded by akniess.

This was really cool: tons of legos open for anyone to create stuff with. There were awesome creations lining the window sills.

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Addendum to building a great company culture

One thing that really resonated with me during the culture talk we had yesterday that I forgot to add to my last post was something that I really disagreed with. It happened when one of the moderators of the conversation was comparing his company culture to a family.

It sounds like a great idea in theory to have a comfy hugable family to work with all the time. However, the problem arises when the ‘parents’ (aka the founders/leaders) consider their employees their ‘children’. It was even more surprising how many people nodded in agreement. Really? Who wants to be considered a child who needs to be disciplined and talked down to all the time.

Employees are partners. They are the reason your company exists. How do you expect to have them buy-in when you consider them the lowest common denominator. It’s my opinion that employees are the reasons for success, and management should be there to support their work.


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Cool iPhone app

We ran into The Mule from Smule, an Oregon native, who’s been playing with a new iPhone app around the festival all week.  

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Building great company culture

We are currently in the middle of repurposing our student-run advertising agency, Allen Hall Advertising. As a result, we are taking a hard look at our agency’s culture and trying to figure out how to create one that fosters innovation, great ideas, initiative, creativity, sustainability, etc. So it was nice to attend the core conversation on how to create a great company culture.

The conversation was moderated by Sam Decker of BazaarVoice and Jason Black of Boundless Network – both companies are known in the Austin area for fostering great company cultures. There turned out to be many nuggets of useful insights and ideas that came out of it.

Unsurprisingly, it was reiterated that central to any great culture is a shared belief in common values. This always starts with a deliberate and careful hiring process. Despite the ‘duh’ moment, the ideas on how to accomplish sharing these values were great. One good idea was to sit everyone down (maybe just everyone in a team, depending on company size) and have them tear the entire company strategy apart and rebuild it from the ground up. Your employees may not come up with an incredibly revolutionary idea, but thats ok because its not the point. The point is to offer significant investment and buy-in and to align the roles such that everyone knows how they impact the end result and the bottom line.

It was also mentioned that silos kill creativity. Keep the organization as flat as possible, skill sets as wide as possible, and ownership as shared as possible and you will foster a positive and productive culture. This works great in small entrepreneurial settings, but how do you achieve the same result in larger companies? The methods can be as simple as the CEO offering to pay for the meals of any marketer that goes to lunch with a programmer. Opening the doors to collaboration always pays positive results in both worker satisfaction and buy-in as well as business success.

Once your employees are invested in the company and your culture is established, its very important to always remain very conscience of maintaining this culture. To do so, remember key events such as anniversaries and birthdays. But most importantly, always remember to celebrate your successes. One example discussed in the conversation was to bang a loud gong. More often though, celebrations take place in open bars. Not surprisingly, a poll of the packed room revealed this to still be the most popular form of both celebration and team building. Go figure.

Finally, great company cultures serve as equally great recruitment tools. Life’s too short to work somewhere you hate. So, if you have fostered a welcoming, fun, successful culture, then it will pay dividends not only in financial and competitive success, but also in the sustainability of your workforce.

Final takeaway:

If you are copying lots of people on emails and meetings, then your roles aren’t defined well enough.

Here’s to making the world a more fun place to work.

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Best SWAG of day 3


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