Wavemaker Canada CEO on thriving in these troubled times

CEO Nikki Stone says a down economy can have a big upside: ‘We have the opportunity to lead our clients through a very changing journey’

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Like their partners in the Canadian news industry, the country’s media agencies are undergoing unprecedented transformation. The National Post is holding conversations with leaders of Canada’s largest agencies on the fast-changing fundamentals. This week, Nikki Stone, CEO of Wavemaker Canada, speaks to writer Rebecca Harris.

How have the fundamentals of the business changed and what has stayed the same?

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There are some things that have thankfully stayed the same, or recently maybe rebounded. There are certain things like a brief — a well put-together brief for all teams, whether that be planning or investment — critical to making sure that we get the most out of dollars for the client. And I think a well-established and well-led IAT (integrated agency team) — that also needs client engagement  — is also critical when we’re looking to get the most out of everything for that client, from your creative to your media, PR, et cetera. How everyone is going to be playing together to bring to life the best possible work. And I think those fundamentals will always remain and should remain because they’re so critical.

When well done, marketers can really get their respective agencies to benefit from both the brand awareness and lower-funnel tactics. And one of the biggest shifts that I think we’ve seen over the past few years specifically is that increased focus on performance, even trying to go so far as to guarantee outcomes and performance outcomes and using the data to get to that best end result for the client. But that still requires all the parts of the funnel to be done in order for that lower-funnel performance to be there.

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How are you helping clients realize those outcomes?

That’s changed a lot over the last few years because there was a lot of disruption… You’ve had supply chain issues and inflation has been wild and you have shrinkflation, which is eroding perceived value. So, a lot of times, when you’re talking about those things, it’s beyond just the media buy. It goes into how we’re using that perceived value and who the right target audience becomes for that new value proposition or that new product positioning that the client is taking or being forced to take in some cases. And so, for us, it comes down to making sure we’re supporting our clients to be savvy or smarter, and that they’re focused on their ROAS (return on ad spend) and making sure they’re remembering that branding needs to hold a place in there, especially in downwards economies.

A lot of our conversations lately with clients have been almost going back to what a lot of the fundamentals are, to make sure that there is an upside to a downward economy, and that is you have consumers really ready to change. They’re in that change mindset because they’re being forced with their own economic constraints to look at value, to look at brands, to look at what truly aligns to them, whether that be green initiatives or just dollars and cents. There’s all the different factors that can play in there. But you have that change mindset that is here right now. And what an opportunity for a disruptor in the marketplace to come in and really capitalize on that.

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How are brands breaking through or capturing consumer attention?

It’s defining your values as an organization and staying true to them, and then investing into the areas that matter and using the data to make the best decisions possible… I really do hope that most marketers are thinking about their first-party data and how to better utilize that. (It’s) even more important for those clients that are taking the Nike very successful approach, which was increasing their profitability and consumer engagement with their DTC (direct-to-consumer) offering, which had previously not been part of their strategies.

And so, you’re seeing marketers really need to break through directly to the consumer to make sure they still keep that share of voice. Those marketers that are testing and learning and allowing their agencies to really work creatively with their data and bring forth those new ideas are seeing that real breakthrough. They’re making inroads and disrupting into other parts of the business or other parts of consumers that they may have otherwise not been capitalizing on. And that’s where a lot of those growth audiences are coming for them.

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Can you share your forecast for the industry?

I think the industry is going to be in a very hard place over the next year. We all know that the U.S. is already planning for a tougher economic time, and when the U.S. has a tougher economic time, Canada has a really tough economic time. When we think about what that means from a personal standpoint, with 50 per cent of mortgages in Canada coming up for renewal over the next two years and the increased interest rates for that, it’s really going to be tough for a lot of Canadians in this marketplace.

As a marketer and agency, our jobs are going to be harder than they have been to make sure that we are being sensitive to those things and that we are not putting our consumers in a position where we are unattainable for them for some of those basic necessities. All of that being said, I also think that because of those things, it is a very interesting and exciting time to be in this space… We have the opportunity to lead our clients through a very changing journey of disrupting the marketplace… and gain new market share and come out of tougher economic times really thriving. And I think that’s an exciting thing as we look at those growth opportunities.

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