A View From the Top: 4A’s chief discusses the advertising industry’s future

“People who work at agencies are just different. That outside perspective is where their value is." -Marla Kaplowitz

By Amanda Long, senior account director, Hughes Agency

Event: Endeavor’s Collaborators & Cocktails monthly professional development series
Where: Endeavor, a coworking community for creatives in the ONE Building
Who Was There: 80+ creative industry and corporate marketing professionals
Feature Presentation: Marla Kaplowitz, president and chief executive officer, 4As 

Marla Kaplowitz has seen a lot in her career as a top female executive in the advertising industry. As the new president and CEO of the 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies), the leading authority representing the marketing communications agency business, she is charged with transforming the 100-year-old organization to better serve the ever-changing needs of agencies, now — and in the future.

During Endeavor’s Collaborators & Cocktails monthly speaker series, she shared what should be keeping agency leaders up at night and balanced that with creative from agencies who got it right for brands including Airbnb, Jolly Rancher, and cyberbullying deterrent app Reword.

Your culture is critical

Her philosophy on agency culture is focused on people first, followed by environment, products, and clients. The order is quite intentional. “Your culture is your brand voice, your mission; it is what you stand for. People feel it from the second they walk in. I never had a good experience [at an agency] when they put clients before their own people.”

The “who” is more important than you

Seven months after Kaplowitz joined MEC, she became its new CEO during a turbulent time. “We were on probation on several businesses. It was bleaker than I thought, but I told the client I needed four to six months to fix it. I did, but I didn’t do it alone. It comes down to who’s doing it with you.”

Leaders must be genuinely curious — a necessity in this business; have a generosity of spirit, really caring and “doing right” by their people; and they must embrace optimism, that anything is possible.

When asked why she still had a smile on her face despite the challenges her company endured, Kaplowitz stated, “Sometimes you are faced with great adversity. I had to remember what my role was: to give people the belief that we were going to get through it.”

If you aren’t ahead, you’re already way behind

In an industry where everything evolves at a rapid pace, Kaplowitz learned early to embrace change and to be open to the possibilities it brings — a mindset she implores agencies to embody. Five trends that will cause agencies to change are

Value of Agencies – Brands are moving away from the agency-of-record model toward more project-based relationships. The challenge for brands is they risk not having a team with a deep understanding of their businesses. “People who work at agencies are just different. That outside perspective is where their value is,” Kaplowitz said.

Agency of the Future – Kaplowitz stressed that the future is not just for agencies to consider, but for all marketers. “If you aren’t changing today, you are in trouble. What’s happening now? Don’t look too far out, maybe three to five years, because things are changing so much,” Kaplowitz said.

Talent – Finding and retaining good talent has always been a challenge, but with the increased importance of data analytics, the challenge deepens.

Agency leaders need to be trained to deal with issues such as race, gender, age, regionality, and ethnicity, as conversations of harassment heighten. “People don’t know what’s appropriate anymore,” Kaplowitz said.

Disruption – The rise of management consulting companies and in-house ad agencies is causing disruption. Management consultants have been around on a high level, but now they are acquiring agencies to take their clients “all the way.” Agencies must step up to be leaders in business consulting. “It’s happening, and it’s a reality,” she said.

With the explosion of social media and programmatic, brands started to bring them in-house as liability involved was clear. “We still believe it’s important to get an outside perspective. That’s where agencies come in,” Kaplowitz said.

Technology and Innovation – Technology and innovation are accelerating at lightning speed. The intersection of artificial intelligence and creativity is critical, so much so that one agency Kaplowitz highlighted embeds a tech team in every project, looking at the potential future and a different way to execute.

Voice, like Amazon Echo, is also not slowing down. “We keep having conversations about whether brands still matter. When you want to buy batteries, what brand is Alexa telling you to order? How will you think differently about the power of voice?” Kaplowitz asked.

Next Collaborators & Cocktails

Presentation by Caviar and Bananas’ co-founder and owner Margaret Furniss and director of marketing Ashley Warnock

March 14, 5-7:15 PM

Endeavor Members: free

Pre-registered Non-Members: $30

Email [email protected] for info.

Endeavor, a creative, collaborative coworking community, presents a monthly professional development speaker series called Collaborators & Cocktails, where marketing chiefs from brands like Southwest Airlines, Ritz Carlton, and Nike share their marketing strategies.


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