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Five Things Not to Miss if Attending Ad Age Next: CMO Conference Based on 2023 Trends

Rebel Staff,

With the end of the year upon us, marketers, c-level executives, and decision-makers alike are dialing in on those annual opportunistic ‘what’s next’ discussions to ensure they position their brand for success in 2023 (and beyond). 

We’ve scoured the agenda for this year’s Ad Age Next: CMO Conference and highlighted what we feel are the key topics (and provided our own point of view) based on shifting demands, industry trends, and economic outlook.

1. Influencer Strategy and Beyond

It will be interesting to hear Jeremy Zimmer and Michael Kassan’s discussion about the future strategy and relationship structure brands should build with creators/influencers. We’ve all seen the trends evolve over recent years moving from Mega to Micro influencer relationships based on niche influencers’ ability to drive action/engagement versus simply having the largest following. The market has also explored various forms of working relationships – tying compensation to the volume of content, the longevity of posts remaining live, issuance of personalized discount/coupon codes, and even the creation of co-branded (influencer-brand) marketplaces.

Now that regulations have tightened, requiring clear disclaimers of sponsorship or endorsement, brands are seeking new ways to leverage creators/influencers in ways that appear totally organic to the market. Our intuition tells us that “From endorsers to partners: The evolution of the celebrity-brand relationship” will explore future scenarios where brands lean into these relationships even further. Rather than simply compensating for unboxings, testimonials, product placement, etc. brands will invite influencers to the Cap Table (deferring compensation to profit sharing or at a Capitalization Event/Capital Transaction).  

From a customer’s perspective, there is significantly more weight in the “endorsement” if a celebrity/influencer is seen as an owner/partner of the company or brand. While, from the brand point of view – if structured based on the impact created – there is less risk assumed by avoiding a significant capital investment upfront in order to secure key partners. Instead, the risk lies within an agency/brand’s ability to vet potential partners and conduct accurate background research to ensure prior actions (or potential future actions) don’t create any negative associations with the brand.

2. Agency Approach

Much like fashion and decor trends that come… and go… and ultimately come back again, the same can be said for brands’ approach to agency partnerships. We’ve lived through eras where companies secure agency relationships for every tactic. And, we’ve seen the market pull efforts entirely in-house. With economic uncertainty top of mind, it’s not surprising to see a shift occurring heading into 2023 where more and more brands are looking to streamline/consolidate their partnerships and build up internal teams to weather a pull-back in consumer spending. 

Those attending “How to hire the best agency for your brand and The ROI of in-housing” are likely weighing their options and seeking counsel on questions they’ve been asked by leadership, such as:

  • What’s the true cost (recruiting effort and fees, salaries, benefits, ramp-up/downtime associated with onboarding and training, etc.) of assembling a capable team internally?
  • How can performance-based agency relationships be fairly structured knowing there are valid limitations to what agencies can actually impact?
  • Are there ways to maintain agency partnerships to continue leveraging their strategic expertise and guidance, while centralizing execution in-house?
  • Do you have leadership that can effectively train, manage and mentor all the disciplines needed to execute the work planned?
  • What indicators should be monitored to inform when it’s appropriate to reignite efforts and gain momentum ahead of competitors?

History seems to prove that in-housing ends in the grass is always greener realization. Like moths to a flame, we can’t avoid being lured by the idea. But, ultimately, we see that brands that lean into economic downturns and are willing to (purposefully) spend through it come out in an exponentially better position than their conservative competitive counterparts. In-house teams simply cannot evolve and adapt like agencies who are constantly maintaining a pulse on the market, tech, trends, etc. Nor can they scale quickly when the time is right, instead further losing traction by going through lengthy RFP processes while competitors are quickly stealing market share and acquiring customers. 

The question to ask is whether it’s better to [inefficiently] grow 10 or 20%, or “efficiently” attempt to maintain status quo?

3. Hello, from the other side 

(Is that still a thing?) It’s no secret that changing gigs can be overwhelming. And, now that the Great Resignation has subsided it’s not as simple as indicating you’re “Open to Work” on LinkedIn and having offers flooding your inbox for fully remote work with 20-30% compensation bumps. 

If you’re eyeing sessions such as “So you want to be a CEO?” or “Marketing job search advice and other career trends” you’re seeking insights on how you might better position your experience (or potentially re-brand yourself entirely) to take that next step professionally. 

Our first piece of advice is nothing groundbreaking: quality over quantity. You have to want to invest time in the process. If you don’t use the products, don’t have passion for the industry, and don’t believe in the leadership you’ll be associating yourself with… then don’t bother. 

Once you’ve identified an opportunity where you welcome writing a cover letter, go for it… and pour your heart out. But do so in a manner that not only champions your skills and experience. Showcase your deep understanding of the challenges, obstacles, and struggles your future colleagues live with daily. And, do your homework. Is the company struggling with customer retention? Activating its 1st party data? Differentiating itself in the market? Communication amongst Strategic Business Units? Develop a hypothesis and propose solutions that utilize your unique expertise, background, and perspective. 

Lastly, remember that to a certain extent we’re all hypocrites. Companies feel pressure to highlight a “cool” culture, work-life balance, space for personal exploration, team foosball tournaments, and honorary four-legged-furry teammates. While, in reality, they are looking for help to keep their teams from drowning. We all may want a four-day workweek, but if you’re looking to take the next step upward reserve questions about the number of PTO days allocated until you get the offer letter. 

4. Economic Anxiety and a Marketer’s Approach

As marketers, we have to be able to adapt. Inflation is rising, and experts warn of recession. In-housing isn’t the only trend that arises in times like this. When brands really start to feel economic pressure marketing, advertising and media spend dollars get stashed in the piggy bank too. 

Brands seeking ways to ensure they are “Adapting to the changing economy” are looking for organic ways to win. Those positioned to get out in front have invested in technology, tools, and infrastructure needed to fight the good fight:

  • Collecting 1st party data that allows them to communicate and engage directly with consumers via email, text, and personalized experiences.
  • Affinity relationships that expand a brand’s reach and enhance its sense of community. 
  • Development of Referral and Loyalty programs that leverage brand advocates to maintain market presence.
  • Comprehensive attribution tracking to continuously optimize ROAS and preserve baseline spend on top-of-funnel prospecting. 
  • Dynamic, self-serve, sales enablement assets.
  • Product/Service extensions that remain relevant despite pull-back in consumer spending. 

5. Crisis Control

No one wants to be on the other end of a viral video gone wrong, feel unprepared when it comes to catching backlash about a product gone awry or have to answer for an influencer’s errant Twitter tirade. Despite playing out all possible scenarios (good and bad), no one can predict the future, but you can be prepared. There should be no doubt that everyone needs a crisis communication plan so we recommend not skipping the session ‘What to do when your brand is in the crosshairs”… trust us on this one.  

Our approach is to always develop crisis management frameworks that give all layers of an organization communication playbooks that cover the broadest concepts of Public Relations down to precise scripts to reference for social media and customer service. We believe that companies should have standards that establish approved narratives that can be utilized for internal communications, 3rd party media outlets, and consumer conversations. Moreover, crisis management protocols must be outlined (and customized) for all roles, whether it be c-level executives or facility support staff.  

The key is to remember that “crisis” can be defined as different things for different businesses or brands. And, in some instances, it’s just as important to define what a brand does or doesn’t take a stance on – or share it’s opinions for – in order to avoid getting pulled into a crisis inadvertently. Creating a clear point of view as to participation in social, political, economic, etc. discussions… or whether to address current events and public figure commentary can be an effective strategy for keeping your brand out of the crosshairs.

At Rebel, we’re constantly evaluating what’s “next” and maintaining a pulse on trends to ensure we’re providing our clients/partners with insights that help them excel in any environment. We’re eager to dive deeper into the discussion and recommendations that come out of the market leaders slated to speak at Ad Age Next: CMO. If you might benefit from a deeper conversation about some of the above (or other market factors affecting your business) we welcome you to contact us below.