The New York Times reported Google is schooling Madison Avenue on digital. Not sure who would lend a helping hand to whom if the subject shifted from digital to diversity. Google and Madison Avenue could endlessly swap stories of abject failure, cultural cluelessness, institutionalized ignorance and deliberate discrimination.
Google Lends a Helping Hand to Madison Ave. on Digital Proficiency
By Stuart Elliott
GOOGLE is inviting Madison Avenue to go to the head of the class, offering tutorials to up-and-coming employees of advertising and media agencies on how to more effectively use digital tools like mobile, social platforms and video for marketing purposes.
Google is calling the digital school for agencies Squared, after the idea that squaring a number or letter in a formula — for instance, e = mc2 — exponentially increases its size or power. The Squared program is coming to the United States after being tested in Britain in 2012 and given a green light a year later; more than 300 employees of more than 60 agencies, including Carat, DigitasLBi, JWT, Mindshare and Starcom, have taken part there.
In this country, the first classes are being held in New York, beginning this week, for more than 40 employees of 17 or so agencies like Leo Burnett, Carat, Initiative, JWT, Ogilvy & Mather, OMD and Starcom. Some additional employees, of client companies, are also expected to take part in the program, which is scheduled to run for six weeks.
In addition to presentations by people who work for Google, participants will hear from other digital firms, among them BuzzFeed and Twitter, and from agency executives recognized as digital leaders. (Twitter recently announced a training program of its own for agencies, an online tutorial named Flight School.)
The Squared sessions are the most recent in a skein of efforts by Google to reach out to agencies. Among them were Google Partners, an online educational program; Project Re:Brief, which gave modern-day makeovers to vintage campaigns for brands like Alka-Seltzer (“I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”) by adding digital components; and Art, Copy and Code, which reworked Project Re:Brief to concentrate on present-day ads for brands like Volkswagen.
“The purpose is to make digital core to the agency experience by helping to educate the next generation of agency talent,” said Torrence Boone, a former senior Madison Avenue executive who is now global head for advertising sales and services of Google, and “exposing the industry to the possibilities unleashed by digital.”
Although “there’s been an incredible amount of progress in terms of the agency ecosystem’s embracing of digital platforms and products, the ask for the industry is, How do we get digital more embedded as a way we think about campaign development?” Mr. Boone said. “Digital acumen still can be thought of, used as, an add-on. We want to make it a starting point.”
The decision by Google to offer the Squared program reflects that while digital advertising may have come a long way, baby, to quote another vintage campaign, digital specialists like Google could certainly benefit further if Madison Avenue became more skilled at — and comfortable with — the likes of social media, search engine optimization and web video series.
“We are simply trying to provide a baseline of exposure to all of the amazing things that are happening across the digital landscape,” Mr. Boone said. “It’s not just about Google; it’s about the entire digital landscape.”
As for what Google is spending, all Mr. Boone would say is that “it’s a significant investment, and something we plan to scale, assuming the pilot here in the U.S. is successful.” The agencies are making an investment, too, he added, in paying the salaries of their employees for the 30 weekdays the workers are detached to attend the Squared sessions.
That, said Kathleen Brookbanks, chief operating officer for the OMD U.S. unit of OMD — part of the Omnicom Media Group division of the Omnicom Group — represents “a big commitment” for the agencies, and “it’s obviously something we gave more than the usual thought to.”
“We are sending three people from OMD in New York,” she added, “based on feedback from our U.K. office as to how valuable the learning was” from the Squared classes in London.
“As more and more money goes into the digital space, it’s a great opportunity for our people to get a deep dive into it,” Ms. Brookbanks said, adding: “We feel a strong confidence there will be more teaching about the space than just about Google. If it’s just about one vendor, you’re not going to send people for six weeks.”
Although Google competes in some ways with Madison Avenue — inspiring references to the company as a “frenemy,” as once famously remarked by Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP — “that doesn’t change our belief this program has a lot to offer,” Ms. Brookbanks said.
That sentiment was echoed by Sarah Baehr, executive vice president and managing director of Carat; Carat and its parent, the Dentsu Aegis Network unit of Dentsu, are sending six employees to Squared. “As managers and proponents of our industry, we should be training people to be bigger thinkers,” Ms. Baehr said. “We don’t always do as good a job as we can in helping people be successful in their roles.”
As for fears that Google might use the sessions for “recruiting the best and the brightest” from agencies to work at Google, “that’s not a great way to endear yourself,” she added, laughing.
Mr. Boone sought to reassure participating agencies about Google’s intentions. “The dialogue we’ve had with our agency partners has been productive,” he said. “They’re looking at this as a way to retain and develop talent, and drive differentiation in the marketplace.”
“What’s important to recognize is that the agencies have asked us for this,” he added. “It’s absolutely a friendly initiative where we’re coming together to invest in the next generation of talent.”