Thought Leadership
Lewis Communications on the Beauty of being a Boutique Shop

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Jamie Stewart
Digital Media Specialist
Lewis Communications

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For those of us not familiar with Lewis Communications, please tell us a little more about your agency and the types of clients you represent.

Lewis Communications is a nationally recognized branding and communications agency with offices in Birmingham, Mobile, and Nashville. For over 60 years, Lewis has utilized marketing research, consumer insight and creative craftsmanship to build and grow our clients’ brands. Lewis offers clients a wide variety of branding and communications services including: marketing research and strategy development; corporate identity; and interactive and digital communication. Operating as branding experts first and category experts second, Lewis has developed niche expertise in everything from consumer package goods to tourism, from motor vehicles to real estate development, all the way to health care. Lewis recently acquired a digital marketing agency, Caddis, which effectively doubles the the size of the digital team.

 

There has been a lot of hoo-hah about programmatic buying over the last few years by many of the industry publications. What is your definition of programmatic, and what percentage of your spend would you say goes through these types of platforms?

Everyone seems to have a different definition of programmatic. I define it as the automated process of identifying audiences, purchasing inventory, and serving creative based on a predefined set of campaign parameters. 80% to 90% of our display/video media spend is programmatic.

At Lewis, we have an internal DSP that provides access to the major 3rd party data sources and allows us to manage our campaigns in real-time. So, because of these advantages, the majority of our spend is programmatic. This breakdown doesn’t include paid search which, of course, is a completely different tactic.

 

What are some of the biggest challenges an independent agency faces?

The challenges we face at Lewis are similar to any other advertising agency. We’re all trying to get our client’s message in front of the right people at the right time while breaking through the ad clutter. The pace at which technology changes customer behavior means the industry is perpetually trying to catch-up. Three years ago we didn’t plan on incorporating a screen the size of watch face or envision that people could fully immerse themselves in a virtual world using a smartphone and some cardboard. There are more ways for people to consume media than ever before, and it’s difficult to determine what will last. For example, Peach looked like a sure thing before it fizzled and Vine’s 200 million MAU couldn’t keep it alive.

All of these options make the planning/buying process more specialized and fragmented, so it’s paramount that everyone is working with the same strategy and messaging. Thankfully, we have a great team at Lewis, and our directors do a fantastic job of making sure everyone isn’t siloed.

 

What are some must-use tools that help in your digital strategy and planning process? (comScore, Quantcast, SimilarWeb, Thalamus, SRDS, Strata, Mediaocean, SEMRush / Keyword Spy, Google Analytics, Doubleclick for Advertisers, Sitescout, etc)

There are standard planning and research sources that we utilize like SRDS, Nielsen, and Google’s suite of products. But, since averages apply to everyone and no one, the most important data at our disposable is what we can glean from our clients. Sources like sales figures, CRM data, internal surveys, and previous plan performance are invaluable because they’re specific to the client. If your campaign surpassed industry benchmarks but performed worse than your last campaign, is it really a win?

Resources like PRIZM clusters are great at personifying our audience too, but there’s so much lifestage data available now that we rarely have a “typical customer.”

 

The major platforms like Google and Facebook (and even LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat to a certain extent) have vast swaths of 1st party data about their users, giving them a huge advantage when it comes to scale, and granular targeting. Do you think that the independents stand a chance against the digital behemoths, and why do you think so?

Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported that Google and Facebook account for 64% of all digital ad revenue. So, any challenger is facing an uphill battle. That said, smaller companies have a puncher’s chance because they can be nimbler and more flexible than their larger counterparts which allows them to respond faster to market changes. This gives them a chance to capitalize on an unforeseen customer need or product benefit. For example, no one has been able to figure out chatbots yet, and the company that does will see a huge windfall. In the digital world we’re all one retweet or one smart idea from success.

 

How do you think the whole ad blocking issue will play out over the coming years?

Ad blocking is digital advertising Frankenstein’s Monster. We put ourselves in this position with intrusive ads that stagnate browsing and squander data. So, it’s no surprise that savvy consumers are looking for a way to block ads. According to eMarketer, nearly one-third of the U.S. will use an ad blocker next year. Trying to circumvent ad blockers won’t work either as we’ve seen in the cat-and-mouse game between Adblock Plus and Facebook. So, I think the industry will see a rise in branded content especially once native can be bought at scale programmatically.

Other publishers are testing a pay for content model where a small donation provides site access but I think this is doomed to fail. Aside from a handful of properties, consumers expect online content to be free and there’s a plethora of options to get similar information elsewhere on the web.

 

What are your thoughts on native advertising? Is there any distinction you make between native that is bought directly from a publisher (branded content, sponsored posts), as compared to the native that can be bought through a network (in-feed ads, ads that fit style of the content)?

Native advertising is the most recent iteration of a well-established media tactic. Previously we just labeled it as blog sponsorships, advertorials, sponsored content, etc. As I mentioned in question six, I expect to see native continue to rise in response to ad blocking and Business Insider projects native display ad spending to grow by 24% in 2017. But, with the increase in native usage comes some challenges. According to MediaPost, nearly one-third of native ads don’t comply with FTC guidelines, so we as an industry need to do a better job of self-regulating to prevent policy makers from getting involved.

Purchasing from a publisher or buying through a network has its respective benefits and drawbacks. Going publisher direct typically allows for more customization while networks provide better reach. So, the determining factor becomes what the campaign is trying to achieve and how success is judged.

 

As an agency digital planner, you must get a tremendous amount of inbound pitches per week from a new adtech company. How do you evaluate which vendors to actually take a meeting with?

We try to have an open door policy here at Lewis where, schedules permitting, we meet with the sales rep that reach out to us. They can offer a wealth of information due to their communication with other ad agencies, the research available to them, their attendance at trade shows, and their knowledge of the new products they’re pitching. Our interaction with them enables us to uncover macro trends in the industry, make personal connections, and keep up with account transitions. Like any other industry, there good and bad meetings but, overall, it benefits Lewis.

Since we meet with so many people, one of our favorite questions to ask potential partners is, “What differentiates your products from your competition?” It can be an audience, unique placement, or data source. I need to be able to succinctly explain my rationale to a client, and if a vendor can’t offer me a USP they likely won’t make the plan. Everyone seems to have the best proprietary algorithm or account team so those don’t count.

 

Lastly, what is your take on the future of digital & mobile media buying for independent agencies and/or local clients?

I think we will see a convergence of TV and digital media where marketers can buy TV spots targeting a specific audience while serving custom creative. eMarketer estimates that 72% of U.S. internet users will watch OTT video by 2018 so, as media conglomerates merge like AT&T and Time Warner, it is easy to imagine a scenario where this capability is possible in the future. There are already companies like Clypd and TubeMogul (who was just acquired by Adobe for $540 million) that are working on the mechanics. This change won’t occur in the next year or two since the technology isn’t quite there yet, but I can see the foundation being built.

 


 

Lewis Communications is a nationally recognized branding and advertising agency with offices in Birmingham, Mobile and Nashville. For over 60 years, Lewis has utilized marketing research, consumer insight and creative craftsmanship to build and grow our clients’ brands.

Lewis offers clients a wide variety of branding and communication services including: marketing research and strategy development; corporate identity; interactive and digital communication including site design, development, online advertising, search engine marketing/optimization, and social media programs; sales promotion; PR/media relations; creative development and production for all areas of print, broadcast, point-of-purchase, out-of-home and direct mail advertising; media planning, purchase and placement; direct response; and database marketing.

Our client list is long and varied, but in the last 20 years our experience has been concentrated in a handful of categories:

Tourism, Hospitality and Destination Marketing
Resorts and Real Estate
Healthcare, Hospitals and Academic Medical Centers
Media Branding
Marine and Recreational Vehicles
Universities and Colleges
Financial Services and Insurance
Public Affairs and Public Service
Manufacturing and Economic Development

Lewis is a member of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the International Communications Agency Network, Inc. (ICOM), and the Urban Land Institute.

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