PHD Canada philosophy: ‘Creativity can drive disproportionate growth’

‘I think we will see businesses strive for compelling creativity in their message versus very sales-oriented or short-term messaging’

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Like their partners in the Canadian news industry, the country’s media agencies are undergoing unprecedented transformation. The National Post is holding conversations with leaders of Canada’s largest agencies on the fast-changing fundamentals, and where the business is going next. This week, Caroline Moul, president of PHD Canada, speaks to writer Rebecca Harris.

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How have the fundamentals of media planning and buying evolved?

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The speed in which (we work) for clients has exponentially increased. Once upon a time, you would do an annual plan and then set your campaigns into motion. (Now), the vast majority of the work we’re putting into market works on a much more real-time basis — moving into the next month or next quarter and reacting in the moment to the (campaign) results. And so, making sure we have the right people, tools and technology to deliver upon those requirements is a key component.

Another piece that has changed is the evolution of data and the data we can fuel our campaigns with and how we’re going after the core customer for any given advertiser. That is one area that is continuously evolving, and you can’t necessarily see where the end state is going to be in terms of the contributing factors, (such as) privacy and cookie deprecation… There is complexity in staying ahead of those challenges, not only here in Canada but also having an eye on what’s happening in the U.S. and globally.

(Additionally), there are a lot of society-driven pressures. (The industry) is navigating the role that DE&I plays within the marketing mix and how you can embrace that from a brand perspective. (We’re also) thinking about climate change and how to assess the carbon footprint of our media campaigns in market, as well as how we support the Canadian media ecosystem and ensuring we have an active role in driving the health and vitality of that industry.

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With regards to DE&I and Canadian media, are these topics your agency brings to the conversation with clients?

It’s two-fold. We have some clients that are extremely leaned in (to) the role that DE&I plays with them as an organization and that manifests into their marketing practices. And so, we’ve done some phenomenal work in that space with many of our clients. For clients that maybe are not bringing it forward, those are ideas we bring to the table in terms of how they can embrace (DE&I in their media plan). But more often than not, particularly in the last year, (clients want) to know how we can help them take the right marketing tactics to the diversity that Canada represents.

When it comes to local media, it varies depending on the organization. Our own belief is that local media is extremely important. I am part of the Canadian media manifesto taskforce by the CMDC (Canadian Media Directors’ Council). It’s about making sure we’re empowering our teams with the knowledge and sense of importance (of local media), but also with the tools and capabilities to be able to easily activate in market. For instance, in the programmatic space, we’ve been able to curate media inventory that specifically is focused on local media or (DE&I) for our teams to be able to activate upon.

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How are brands capturing attention or breaking through the noise?

I kind of love this question because there are two folds to the answer – one is less sexy than the other. The first one is that we’ve evolved our tools to allow us to optimize our media mix based on attention metrics. This is incredibly important because there are so many different media formats in market and there are some that garner higher attention from consumers in terms of the impact they have — not only the time spent, but also the response a consumer will have… And so, that’s a foundational piece (to ensure) we’re choosing the right formats and channels that are going to garner the highest attention.

The other (way) is with creativity. One of PHD’s fundamental beliefs is that creativity can drive disproportionate growth in terms of business outcomes for brands. When we think about some of the most compelling and award-winning work we put into market, it is because there’s bravery in terms of the impact of the message, the nature of the creative, as well as how we go to market. (One example is Dove’s #DetoxYourFeed campaign, part of the brand’s long-running Self-Esteem Project). Dove did an installation in a mall made from (50,000) syringes (representing the number of cosmetic injectables performed on Canadian teen girls last year). It was a means to bring to life the impact of beauty messages around things like Botox and how detrimental it can be to a young person’s self-esteem. It’s that sort of compelling work that stops you in your tracks and is something that can garner not only strong consumer attention, but expansive exposure to the message in that it tends to get PR behind it. It’s newsworthy in terms of people talking about it, whether that’s on social media or in the headlines.

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What are the biggest challenges in the sector?

(One challenge) is convincing our clients to balance short with long term (and understand) the long-term effects their marketing has. For instance, there is a ton of research that shows brands that continue to advertise when there are challenging market conditions will prevail… versus those that shut it down and come back once things settle down. And so, it’s making sure we help them understand (how to balance) short-term sales targets and building the brand and building the love for the brand and favourability that is going to extend beyond this month and well into subsequent years.

Can you share a prediction on where the industry is headed?

We will continue to see data and technology intensify in the media ecosystem and this will have an impact across all channels. The use of data and technology and the advancements in terms of what can be done will affect TV and the ability for us to buy TV in a very different way. It will affect out-of-home and how we can bring creativity to out-of-home with the use of technology… I think we will see businesses strive for compelling creativity in their message versus very sales-oriented or short-term messaging. We’ll see bigger, more compelling creative work like the Dove campaign as an example.

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Read the rest of the series of conversations with leaders of Canada’s largest media agencies on where the business is going next:

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