Fame helps to get new business

Rimantas Stanevicius

Interview with the Creative Director of MILK agency, Rimantas Stanevicius. MILK has been the number 1 Baltic agency by Balticbest ranking in 2016 and 2015.

Milk started to work with Telia Estonia recently. How did this happen? 

We were invited to Telia Estonia pitch – and we were amongst the winners. We also work with Telia Lithuania and since Telia Estonia has heard of us (because of the buzz created by the award wins in Balticbest and other shows) they decided to invite one foreign agency to their pitch as well. 

What are the main marketing trends in Lithuania right now?

To be honest, at this point I don’t really think I can name something specific..

There is only one small speculative feeling from where I sit. It’s that more and more agencies have started to make more interesting integrated works, projects and activations for real paying clients. It’s not just traditional ATL anymore. But there’s not much. We’re just learning here. 

What about all these new technologies in marketing – AI, 360 degrees, virtual reality, etc. – are they here in Lithuania already? 

I think it’s not really here yet, but it’s coming. For example, we just recently won a Gold at Adrenalinas for one clever data-driven project. It was a solution where you can basically learn about chances of getting a sinusitis, depending on the weather forecast, your location, health data and possible symptoms combined. 

I don’t know about other agencies, but we are also playing and experimenting with VR and augmented reality. We’ve done some promotional stuff and enhanced some website experiences with various VR tools. Not anything very extensive, just making first steps. 

Usually, when we look at the technologies that have been used in some big campaigns, we don’t really feel that this is out of our reach. Technology is getting cheaper and cheaper, so you can do almost anything yourself. We can at least try out some things and play around with these. There are all sorts of means and tools out there – you just need the will. If there’s a will, there’s a way.  

I personally find that the new technology is the savior from becoming bored of advertising and cynical. If you’ve worked in an ad agency for years, after some time you are starting to feel déjà vu – that you’ve done and tried everything. But what does keep changing is the technology, and this is what makes it interesting. The storytelling itself is of course still important, but the forms of it keep changing and that’s what curious and interesting. For me it’s very exciting to explore all the possibilities out there.  

What about content marketing? Is it still popular?

Yes, it is. Maybe that’s also the reason why clients have recently been more open to all kind of interesting campaigns and solutions – because they hope it becomes good content for their social media and maybe it would be also picked up by traditional media so that it would generate earned media.  

Pure content, e.g. series of documentaries, is not very popular here. Although, we are experimenting with that too – at the moment we are trying to make one documentary project for Lithuanian Olympic team, for example. But mostly agencies and brands do activations or events and just create short videos about it. And this then becomes the content. 

Here in MILK we have one good thought about content: if you put the stress on different syllable in the word content, it becomes content (as in satisfied or pleased). And therefore we also say that all advertising should make people feel content. It has to be good, so that people would like it and share it.  

Do you see any change in clients’ mindset? Agencies still often say that all these new flashy solutions you see at award shows – they are so far ahead of the reality that’s on client’s mind. Clients are still traditional and don’t really want to take risks. That’s why all good crazy ideas are stuck.  

On one hand – yes, you can see that many clients are skeptical and not always willing to buy the new solutions. It’s often because the new and unique solutions have no strong KPIs and tested ways of measuring the results. When we want to be proactive and offer them something non-traditional, something that we feel would create buzz and stand out in the crowd, then the client usually says “OK, but it doesn’t look safe, how do I know if it will work”. It’s not enough for them if you say that “Look, Nike or Coca-Cola have done it before in Australia”. The local clients are looking for a local proof.  

However, on the other hand – I don’t think the agencies bring the best ideas all the time. Even if the client says “OK, hit me, I’ll get the money, I’ll fight for it, just give me something brilliant” – it’s really difficult to do it. It’s not that you only need the client’s permission. It’s far from that. You need everything – the right timing, the right product, the right budget, the right inspiration, etc. Everything has to be perfect in order to succeed.  And by success I don’t mean winning only an award for it. When we look at some of the biggest award shows, I know for a fact that many of these award-winning works are scam. These projects are not real. They’ve just been especially made for award shows or as side projects, not for real clients. You always have to look at these cases with a touch of skepticism.  

Let’s also speak a bit about the role of algorithms in advertising. I’ve seen quite a few reports claiming that contrary to what creatives tend to think (that most untraditional and crazy creative solutions will bring the best results), it’s actually completely the opposite. For example, stock photos with cliches tend to work pretty well.  Do you have any experience with that? Have you had any surprises when creating multiple creative solutions and letting the algorithms choose the best?

Surprises? Probably not. But yes, we do that. We’ve done a lot of it for Telia, for example.  There we work alongside with media agency and we’re constantly changing the banners and other advertising materials. We’re trying to close the sale basically. When we know that a person saw some certain piece of video or banner, but didn’t click on it, then we would try to catch that person and continue working on it by taking next steps. If one banner doesn’t work, we show another one, etc. But I don’t think we’ve ever tried being conventional and unconventional at the same time, so that we could compare which works better. But if you have two stock photos, you can surely see which one works better and use that one.  

I don’t think there have been some big surprises. Since a long time ago, we’ve learned the lesson of being just commonsensical about banners and stock imagery and about how things work on internet. The creatives would want as little information as possible on ads, thinking they would just get the attention of a person who’s scrolling down the wall or page. But we’ve realized that it’s like a highway and a billboard – it has to be very relevant and the people have to understand very easily what they are expected to do, where to click, etc. 

If you would have to give advice to clients about marketing, what would you suggest them to develop or learn at the moment? What kind of knowledge of expertise are they lacking? 

I’m not sure what kind of marketing advice I could give them, they are the marketers after all… But generally, I think it is important to understand that client and agency are partners working for a common goal. It’s not about me selling you something.  

Selling of the idea is not even the goal for the agency, because it’s a one-off transaction. We are in the business of relationships, therefore we need to cultivate the relationships, look at it as a partnership and work together towards something. So my answer to your question would be: the collaborative approach. Although it might sound old school :) 

Last year in Cannes, Razorfish presented their study where they had analyzed the agency-client relationships and how the length of relationships increases the number of wins at award shows. They found out that clients and agencies first have this 1-year period where they get to know each other. Then there’s a peak of creative success at year 2, after which they go down again. But after 8 or 10 years, there is another peak, twice the size of the first one. It’s like a golden age. Getting better and better. But the problem is that most relationships doesn’t even last that long nowadays.  

Long-term relationships and brand building might sound like clichés, but that is what we should really value. This is what I would want a marketing director or brand manager to think about. Not just short-term goals and tactical things that need to be taken care of.

Interviewed by Hando Sinisalu and Maarja Laasu, Best Marketing International

The fourth pan-Baltic advertising festival Balticbest will bring together marketing managers and agency people in Tallinn, Estonia on August 30, 2017. Come to participate: www.balticbest.eu