BOULDER — Experts in the advertising industry say that changes in how people want to receive information and a trend of shorter attention spans are forcing public-relations and marketing agencies to retool their skill sets with a heavy dose of technology to help their clients.
Leaders of agencies in the Boulder Valley participating in BizWest’s CEO Roundtable on advertising all agreed that technology has created the ability to target specific audiences with lightning speed, but often, an overall long-term strategy to develop a brand is lost.
A big challenge facing agencies is keeping up with the constantly changing technology that allows advertisers to reach consumers online with ads that are tailor-made to a consumer’s preferences based on their demographics and online behavioral patterns.
This shift is causing agencies to rebalance their efforts by allocating more resources to the technology of today and spending less time on the creative aspects of developing campaigns.
Evan Faber, vice president of strategy at Moxie Sozo in Boulder, said the field has become very data-driven, making it technology-heavy and the know-how behind it a necessity.
Laura Steele, director of business operations for Voltage Advertising in Louisville, said the firm used to spend 75 percent of its resources on creative messaging efforts, but that has decreased to 40 percent, while technology consumes the remaining 60 percent.
“We have to stay on top of technology, but we want to make our services about strategy and value-pricing,” Steele said. “We are using creative to gain a client’s trust, and once we get that, we help them solve technological problems when they want to use such things as apps and funding platforms. … we’ve got to be able to do that.”
Bob Morehouse, chief executive of Vermilion in Boulder, said many people think they can handle their PR and marketing themselves because of all the various platforms available, most prolific among them, Facebook and Instagram.
“Many people are operating under the veneer of ‘I can figure this out myself,’ ”Morehouse said. “But, what they can’t do using this fragmented method bouncing from thing to thing is tell a whole story about themselves and their products.”
Newspapers, once a lock to reach everyone through advertising on their pages, are dwindling as they struggle to maintain their print publications in the wake of myriad free online news and entertainment sources.
“Technology is causing us to lose our mass reach,” said Trish Thomas, chief executive of Teem in Boulder. “It’s also causing us to lose investigative journalism, and that’s frightening.”
Consumers’ behavior has altered how advertisers approach their work.
“They (consumers) want short bursts of information, and their attention spans are shorter than they used to be,” said Lori Jones, chief executive of Avocet Communications in Longmont.
Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have nurtured the changes.
Matt Bennett, vice president of Echos Communications, a public-relations and brand-building firm in Boulder, said one of the best mediums for telling stories to build brands is the magazine, with its ability to create compelling layouts with vivid photography, a far cry from homemade video stories posted on the Internet.
“YouTube is a cluster … and it’s annoying,” Bennett said.
Patrick Mallek, co-founder of Mighty Fudge Studios, a shop in Boulder that specializes in animation and motion media, said Napster and YouTube have made people think that media is free, and that augmented reality — technology that blurs the line between what’s real and what’s computer-generated by enhancing what is seen and heard — could change the way we absorb news, adding to the perception of false news.
He also said there’s some truth to the shortened-attention-span-of-consumers theory.
“It’s getting harder and harder to draw attention and keep it,” Mallek said. He urges clients to use 30-second videos or animation. “There’s no way young people will last for two minutes,” he said.
Rick Chadwick, co-founder of nuf said in Erie, floated the question: “Will technical ad platforms that almost anyone can use make us (advertising agencies) obsolete, the same way Uber has affected the taxi industry?”
If not the traditional agency’s demise, it has raised awareness that new things must be tried.
Thomas said advertising has become very segmented, and client relationships, once high on the “must have” list, are changing.
“We need to use these new platforms to be able to provide new ideas and consumer insights,” she said.
Stacy Cornay, owner and founder of Communication Concepts PR & Advertising in Longmont, sees it as an opportunity.
“We need to work harder to know our audience. For example, baby boomers use print. We need to understand where young people go for their information; it’s more difficult to reach mass audiences, but you can still reach people,” Cornay said.
To get a handle on this technology, some agencies are hiring younger people with tech skills and teaming them with more message-oriented veteran advertisers.
Thomas uses staff and a large cadre of experienced freelancers. She teams young techies who understand search-engine optimization, cross-linking and shortening messages with seasoned journalists. Steele said agencies today need to merge those two skill sets for the best results. “We need both sides,” she said.
Morehouse said there is more overlap between public relations and marketing. Clients, he said, will ask a PR firm to work with a marketing firm on a particular digital-media campaign.
“Those two firms have to form a trusting relationship together and not poach each other’s areas of expertise,” Morehouse said.
Mallek said marketing, with its data-driven algorithms, is overtaking much of the industry.
“Marketing can destroy good creative,” Mallek said.
Matt Bennett, vice president, Echos Communications; Rick Chadwick, co-founder, nuf said advertising; Stacy Cornay, owner/founder, Communication Concepts PR & Advertising; Evan Faber, vice president of strategy, Moxie Sozo; Lori Jones, chief executive, Avocet Communications; Patrick Mallek, co-founder, Mighty Fudge Studios’ Bob Morehouse, chief executive, Vermilion; Don Poe, chief executive, People Productions; Bill Rigler, vice president, MAPR.agency; Laura Steele, director of business operations, Voltage Advertising; Trish Thomas, chief executive, Teem. Moderator: Christopher Wood, co-publisher/editor, BizWest.
Jim Cowgill and Jeremy Wilson of EKS&H LLLP; Ruder Verner, Heidi Potter and Brent Johnson of Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti LLP.