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Five minutes with Chris Howatson

by Rachael Micallef

CHE Proximity is on a roll. This year it launched a Sydney office, had a spate of new hires and reinvented its operating structure to what it calls ‘The Agency of the Future’. At the helm is agency prodigy Chris Howatson who believes adland is on the cusp of change and CHE is at the forefront.

Advertising is no stranger to new tech platforms. Why do you thing the impact of data will be different?

Advertising started with print and then radio came along and disrupted print; then TV came along and disrupted radio; then digital happened and disrupted everything again. But I guess the point is that each of those different disruptions really had the same impact on the industry. Now we’ve got something this is not just a linear disruption but something which is going to change the industry. That is Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple have built such an incredible view of the customer, which essentially means as a brand I can target my customer in an owned or bought channel, I don’t need to think about audiences anymore. When I think about bought media I can target individuals.

What impact will that have on the industry?

Advertising has changed and it’s never going back. So we used to be an industry that was based on broad persuasion. We used to try to deliver those broad persuasions to as many people as possible and our whole industry was based on the efficiency of that reach. The biggest change now is what I say to each individual might be different. That is going to drive fundamental structural change across our industry and we will see a lot of consolidation of different functions into single service delivery for clients.

How has that changed the way you’ve structured CHE Proximity?

If we’re going to own the customer journey we need to have deep structure in all the skills that allow us to do that. What we have is all the functions you imagine an agency having but we also have six practices that help us drive a greater commercial return for clients: data, experience, tech, brand, content and orchestration. We have the biggest analytics team of any creative agency in Australia – we signed a deal with Google and Adobe to be our ad tech and martech platforms – and the reason we bought media in-house last year was because we decided there shouldn’t be any breaks in the customer journey. It should all be the same experience. Our CX plan is to define the journey for a client regardless of what medium or channel it’s in. That is the real growth engine of our agency, the CX and it’s where media sits.

It’s a big shift when it comes to having media and creative together. Are many marketers looking at CHE Proximity to work on their whole business?

What we’re finding with media is once we explain the journey then clients are seeing it as inseparable. In two years’ time most clients will find it impossible to separate message, moment and money. If we fast-forward from now to two years in the future, the creative and media agency landscape will be unrecognisable to what it is today. There are a few people moving to do something about it, but I think most people are hoping that structural barriers in the industry will keep most things the same. The ad industry is experiencing a global warming moment and there are some of us that have realised it and are adjusting our behaviour and then there are others who are pretending the ice isn’t melting.

How receptive are brands and CMOs to what you’re proposing?

Clever CMOs know this is really important. Marketers know they need to change and what they’re desperately looking for is a partner that can help them through that change. Now the consultancy agencies, the Deloittes, the Accentures, have massive capability in this area. But I think what marketers are missing is someone who can say ‘this is the business case and this is what you need to do to take this all the way down to the delivery of the customer experience’.

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