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iMedia made a triumphant return to the agency world last week with a new look and format in New Orleans. Along with giving us plenty of time to sample some non-conference-food in one of my favorite culinary destinations, there were lots of great conversations to be had and interesting nuggets to be learned. Here are some of the key trends that I took away from the three-day conference:

  • While AI is interesting and evolving quickly, there is no way that it will replace the role of the media buyer. The media landscape is just too complicated and requires too much coordination, optimization and expertise.
  • Education is so important because the industry is changing so fast. It’s not just the latest trends, it’s often about dealing with the commoditization of services that agencies provide. Many are here to understand “How can we do the same things other agencies do, but in a different way?
  • Since “all sales pitches sound the same,” agency strategists are looking for partners that they trust to deliver on what they promise during the sales process. They’d prefer to work with an inferior solution and/or inventory source if it means that they’re working with someone they know and trust.
  • Along those lines, customer service is something that is undervalued and underrepresented in vendor pitches. It’s the hardest thing for new partners to prove, the easiest thing to mess up and the most important ingredient in long-lasting partnerships.
  • A key benefit for agency attendees is the opportunity to get feedback/validation that everyone is facing similar challenges. They really liked the answers to the polls that were shared by the Aspen Group on Monday. They felt like they had opportunities to share ideas amongst themselves and with potential partners on all three days.
  • Transparency is a popular buzzword, but it certainly means different things depending on the situation and who’s asking about it. For some, it’s primarily about cost transparency, so it’s not always inventory transparency. This is very client-specific, as some clients are more involved or have different requirements based on business models, industries, etc.
  • It was great to hear more about creative at a digital conference. The last day was refreshing as there were multiple sessions reminding all of us as marketers how important the message is, especially when trying to cut through the clutter.
  • Interesting banter on the consultancy vs. agency front. Some agencies see the consultants as distractions for clients, while others see their entrance into the market as a wake-up call for their teams and businesses.
  • Finally, despite all of the automation and digitalization of media, the industry is still all about relationships. It’s not just the agency-client relationship, but it’s also about the relationship between buyers and sellers. Agencies that are able to truly partner with their tech and media providers are able to unlock substantially more value for their clients and account teams.

Looking back on the event, it’s very clear that we’re all trying to service our clients at a high level while making sure that we have sustainable businesses. While it may feel like advertising is always under attack, our industry continues to innovate and deliver new ways to connect advertisers and their desired audiences in meaningful ways.

(Originally posted on LinkedIn, October 12, 2017)