Airbnb CMO: Content agencies need to ‘step up’ and keep pace with tech developments

Airbnb’s CMO Jonathan Mildenhall says that “for the first time in his career” agencies are not being as creative or disruptive when it comes to content creation and are struggling to keep up with technology.

Speaking at a breakfast event hosted by The Economist at Cannes Lions festival yesterday (23 June), Mildenhall told the audience that he had a recent change of heart when it comes to ad tech companies and how quickly they are developing.

“I have been saying that ad tech is always just six months away for the last eight years. But actually, this year I’ve been exposed to some brilliant opportunities where we can really start to use ad tech to drive much greater precision marketing,” he said.

Mildenhall mentioned that the brand is currently collaborating with the Fox Broadcasting Company to launch a personalised TV campaign in Australia, and is “excited” by the prospect of targeting a household with bespoke content.

“It excites me because I want very personal engagement but through broadcast media. I’ll be getting the results from the test in eight weeks’ time,” he commented.

He also believes ad tech solutions are now offering greater opportunities than content solutions.

“For the first time in my career, ad tech is looking very cool while content agencies need to step it up. They’re not being as creative or disruptive in terms of content creation.”

Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO, Airbnb

Alison Lewis, CMO at Johnson & Johnson, also spoke at the panel and agreed with Mildenhall’s comments. She believes that as technology develops, agencies need to “get on it fast” and help clients be more creative.

“In terms of content, that’s biggest challenge we all have. We need more creative solutions and we need agencies’ help in that,” she said.

“Marketing is at a point where we’re starting to be able to get the right content at the right time in front of the right people. It’s exciting for our industry, but we need agencies’ help.”

Having a 360-degree relationship

Lewis picked up on another problem within the industry, where clients are not properly incentivising agencies.

“In terms of incentives, my best agencies are the ones that you wouldn’t know whether [the employees] worked for the agency or the company. They care about the monthly business results and the progress we’re making.

“I would love to have an incentive system that is more directly tied to the performance of that individual business, measured by metrics such as sales, profit or brand health. I don’t think we’ve figured out a good mechanism for doing that.”

Mildenhall added that for agencies and brands to prosper, they need to be “much more strategic” when it comes to maintaining a business relationship.

“Very rarely do you get an organisation to take the time out and give [the agency] proper 360 degree feedback, and what they want the relationship to stand for. We’re not just talking about creative work, but what type of development and growth experiences we want our teams to enjoy as a result of working together.”



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