Initiative's Sérgio Brodsky on the new world order of agencies

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 8 August 2018
Sérgio Brodsky

At a recent industry event, Wavemaker’s national head of content and partnerships Shivani Mahara declared the word ‘agency’ dead, stating it’s no longer relevant across adland. It’s a bold statement that Initiative head of strategy Sérgio Brodsky strongly disagreed with.

Brodsky tells AdNews agencies shouldn’t stamp out their heritage and swap their name simply to reflect the push towards consultancy-like services.

“Agencies shouldn’t change their names to advisory media consultancy or advisory media business simply because we’re giving advice. That’s something we’ve always done,” he said.

Brodsky’s comments follow a number of media and creative agencies branding themselves ‘consultancy’ agencies, or forming consultancy units, in response to the likes of PwC and Accenture moving more into the marketing realm.

“You don’t need a consultancy arm to consult because it’s something we do on a daily basis. There’s no need to create a whole new unit as advising is already part of the job, and if you’re not doing that, you’re just a transactional agency,” he said.

“If you want to do truly transformational work, what you need to do is advise and implement. If you’re not doing that, you’re just lazy.”

Despite consultancies increased presence, Brodsky is confident in the capabilities of agencies.

“Management consultancies will give you a 700-page report that they won’t execute on. Whereas media agencies will come up with the right insight, filter all of the data and then execute and implement the strategy,” he said.

As for the state of advertising, Brodsky recognises it's “suffering” because from its inception, it’s been based on interruption rather than getting people’s attention.

“That’s a big mistake because that’s now how attention works. Just by interrupting someone, doesn’t mean I will get their attention” he said.

“The whole idea that people now have the attention span equivalent to a goldfish is the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard. If that was the case, why are so many people binge-watching?

“What we need to do is break someone’s prediction of what they expect to happen and in turn, get their attention, instead of interrupting a moment. That’s the shift that you need to remain relevant.”

Brodsky views the industry's obsession with the big, sexy TV commercial as one of its downfalls.

“When you look at creative agencies, the way forward is to stop obsessing over the TV commercial, which is something that is hindering growth and innovation within agencies,” he said.

“There is an ingrained culture of doing the big TV commercial – the big glossy TV production that involves sending a crew to an exotic island in Thailand – when you could be telling the same story in a more effective way.

“We don’t need that. Agencies could be making more work and developing new ways of storytelling. But it’s been something we’ve loved doing, and up until now we had the funds to abuse the luxury of creativity for the sake of creativity. In this new world order, agencies need to be more cost effective, because CMOs are also getting their budgets reduced dramatically.”

Brodsky still believes in the power of TV as “the most effective channel for reach and engagement”, but urges agencies to become channel agnostic.

“Any marketer or agency that is focusing only on a channel is going about things the wrong way. Something as simple as having a zero based budget will help you define how to use the best channels and use media as something that is additive, not exclusive,” he said, adding agencies should deploy as many channels as their budget allows.

Initiative’s evolution

According to global boss Mat Baxter, Initiative has reached a ‘turning point’ since its 2016 repositioning that refocused the media agency around the idea of culture. In Australia, Brodsky is seeing similar progress.

He said Initiative’s overhaul has been the “driving force” behind new business wins, such as John Coots, Revlon and Under Armour.

“I don’t think we’ve achieved the optimal point of our evolution yet but I think it’s also a part of a very hungry culture,” he said.

“There might not even be an optimal point because it’s something we are constantly readjusting and fine-tuning, but culture is everywhere - it’s like oxygen and you can’t avoid it – and clients are responding to that.”

Brodsky would like to see agencies and clients in the Australian market take more risks, adding that he believes the industry has lost its bravery.

“The agency alone can’t drive the agenda so we need clients to be braver and when they’re ready, we can get them there,” he said.

“We need to be bolder and braver to make real transformation happen, otherwise we’ll be disrupted and I wouldn’t like to see that happen.”

*Sérgio Brodsky was speaking to AdNews as part of the AdWeek APAC Conference.

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