Hamish Nicklin

Executive Director – Media, UK & Ireland

Dentsu UK&I’s CEO of media warns that marketers and their agencies must beware of innovation for innovation’s sake

The pace of change within marketing has never felt faster. Digital transformation is sweeping across sectors, new consumer behaviours are emerging and annual plans are increasingly pencilled in rather than set in stone. In response, marketers and their agencies have had to evolve new ways of working, new ways of engaging their audiences and new routes to market. Innovation is everywhere – and dentsu is no exception. 

It's crucial to stay focused on what such innovation is for, there’s a big difference between nimble changes that have a clear purpose behind them – and those that don’t.

“The challenge arises when marketers’ quest for agility becomes driven by fear of missing out on something,” he says, conjuring the idea of an industry-wise sense of FOMO. “If we’re not careful, innovation can become a sort of holy grail in itself, but knowing when to innovate and what to innovate around is utterly crucial. You need to know the benefit to the customer and your business from the outset. If that’s not clear, then what’s the point?”

For Nicklin, the key to keeping innovation focused and purposeful involves finding the right balance between agility and strategy. Marketers need their agencies to provide timely insights and a speedier route to acting on them – but they also need those insights to be coherent and focused on a clear end-goal.

The right blend of strategy and agility
“There’s a lot of debate about long-term strategy versus the need to be agile and the reality is that these two things shouldn’t be conflicting with one another,” he says. “Your long-term strategy should absolutely enable you to pivot and react in an agile fashion. If it prevents you from being agile, then you’ve got the wrong strategy – and you’ve certainly got the wrong people around you.”

The way Nicklin sees it, having the right type of integrated expertise available is what prevents marketers and businesses from hurtling after one technological bandwagon to another. It’s also at the heart of what agencies should be providing for their clients: an ability to sift through the noise, distinguish the changes that matter for a business, and consider all the options, old and new, when it comes to crafting a response.

“When it comes down to it, clients are looking for the strategies and insights that will bring them a competitive advantage – and that’s what agencies specialise in,” he says. “Our role is to try and understand the consumer better than anyone else and extract that unique insight that can bring a competitive advantage to our client.”

Whatever is right for the client
For Nicklin, it’s the vast range of potential insights and potential solutions that makes life leading an agency so exciting. When he joined dentsu in May 2020, he effectively stepped across the negotiating desk from the media owner side – where he’d held commercial leadership roles for The Guardian, AOL and Google – and that gives him a very clear sense of the value that an agency should bring to the conversation.

“Back in my media owner days, if a client came to me with a business problem, the answer I came up with was always going to be The Guardian or Google, or whoever I was working for at the time,” he says. “Now the answer is whatever it needs to be – we can talk to every media owner and every technology company. The breadth of ways we can solve a problem is what makes this so exciting.”

Why diversity is the real hallmark of agility
In order to take advantage of that varied marketing and media landscape, agencies and marketing departments alike need to focus on their own levels of diversity. Nicklin argues that being attuned to all communities is the most important characteristic of a genuinely agile business.

“One of the greatest fears that any business has is being left behind the curve when social movements and political agendas can gain momentum so quickly,” he says. “The best way to manage that risk is to have authentic conversations with your entire customer base – and the best way to have those authentic conversations is to increase diversity within your own business.”

The agility and innovation that counts most is the agility and innovation that brings a brand closer to its key audiences. Building marketing teams and marketing agencies that reflect the full range of those audiences is the best way to allay that perpetual marketing fear of missing out.

For more insights from visionary Marketing Leaders check out LinkedIn’s CMO Corner.  

First shared on the Campaign Website.