FKA CGO: ‘Any Agency That Says These Are Easy Times Is Simply Lying’

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Is the agency model inherently broken, or is the executive turnover taking place at large global firms pushing the digital media landscape in a more positive direction? If you ask Linsey Loy, the newly-appointed chief growth officer at Formerly Known As, or FKA, it’s most definitely the former.

An experienced brand marketer, Loy has led teams at Dentsu, iProspect, TBWA\Chiat\Day and Deutsch. Now at Formerly Known As, she is working with major brands, like Verizon, Pop-Tarts, MAC, Audi, Taco Bell, JIF, and MeowMix. In her new role, Loy has been charged with providing strategic direction to FKA’s business development team, and she’s actively working to improve the agency’s client dynamics.

Street Fight recently got the opportunity to catch up with Loy about all things digital marketing, including the role that diversity plays in building a next-generation creative agency, how she’s been able to leverage applied behavioral science to translate data points into human insights, and whether she believes the agency model is inherently broken.

Q: You’ve worked with some of the largest agencies out there. Why make the leap to FKA?

A: I have, and it’s been made very evident that bigger is not always better. Everyone says they do things differently, but in reality, very few actually do. As a leader, it’s been tough to be told that ‘we are looking for change’ to only discover that there was limited appetite for any updates and autonomy. The role at FKA was the most refreshing and exciting brief I’ve come across — it’s truly a dream for someone like me. I’m teaming up with empowered and diverse leaders like FKA’s President, Solange Claudio, to truly implement a ‘walk the walk’ strategy. We aren’t simply talking about things — we are taking action and thinking differently about how we work to solve challenges internally and externally. 

I’ve never seen an organization with such desire and drive to make a meaningful impact on the industry. This is already evident in the diverse representation they have not only from a leadership standpoint, which is a majority POC, but throughout the entire agency where 81% identify as millennial and Gen Z. We literally are today and tomorrow’s consumers.

Q: What does it mean to be a data-led creative agency, and how is that different from what every other agency is doing right now? 

A: Time and time again, I’ve seen agencies — no matter the specialty — only answering the “what,” and leaving people needing more to understand the “why” and real implications. It is data and the insights that we gain from it that answers the “why”.

Being a data-led creative agency means that we put humans first, both our client partners and consumers. This means, before we even start to think of concepts, executions, or media, we work smarter by leveraging our Applied Behavioral Scientists, ABS as we call it. This is a group of behavioral scientists that bring a human approach to enable consumer action. We apply neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics, and testing to translate data points into human insights that we bring to the forefront of our solutions. At FKA, we don’t consider ABS a discipline — it’s embedded within FKA DNA and one of our key differentiators as we apply ABS not only for our client relationships, but throughout our agency internally. 

We’re pushing out ahead of the industry as this approach results in creative that is actually authentic and connected with both the consumer and culture. Having ABS engrained throughout the entire process helps us generate more focused and quantifiable business results. We’re saying goodbye to vanity metrics, and hello to a true human understanding underpinned by real business results.

Q: Do you see the agency model as being broken, and if so, what is FKA doing to fix it?

A: I sure do, and having worked across independents and holding company organizations, it’s important to understand that this isn’t solely an agency issue. It’s an industry issue that stems from agencies feeling the need to be subservient to win or retain business, siloed marketing organizations, and disconnected incentives. 

One perfect example is separating brand and demand, and another is not implementing agreed-upon performance metrics that give agency partners increased accountability and upside for when they outperform. At FKA, we’re staying focused and are not trying to “boil the ocean” so we can be more productive. We are starting with something we call building loyal followings, which is the reinvention of consumer connectivity by building brands through relationships measured on emotional strength. If we are to put labels on our approach, it’s the integration of social, commerce, and CRM, doubling down in areas where a two-way relationship can be built in service of both the brand and performance. 

Bain & Company recently reported a 5% increase in customer retention can lead to a 25% to 95% increase in profits. This is huge. And by truly integrating social, commerce, and CRM programs, brands can help combat their acquisition struggles and potentially at an even higher return. Having only just begun on this journey, our loyal following approach is already driving organizational efficiencies, increased brand awareness and customer engagement, more effective targeting and lead gen practices, improved customer service, and increased support and streamlining of the sales and marketing process.

Q: You’ve spent time at some of the largest agencies in the world. Given your experience, where do you believe the industry is headed?

A: This question can be answered from multiple angles, but as I mentioned earlier, the significant increase in acquisition costs is forcing brands to finally look at their consumers as more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. The future of the industry will be led by those who are working to not only take hold of their customer information, inclusive of first-party, and feedback, but are truly investing in how to best understand and execute against it. I’ve seen this called CX-driven business transformation. 

Tomorrow’s consumer is much savvier than we give them credit for, and by that I mean they see right through brand body language. Consumers expect convenience, immediate gratification, and they have zero patience or grace for error. Based on a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting, they found that first-party data is foundational to better understanding customers, but only 53% of respondents reported their companies use it on a regular basis to personalize CX. Additionally, 84% expect a greater connection between CRM and commerce to result in a significant or transformational benefit to their ability to generate customer insight. 

Those who can integrate solving for consistent delivery of exceptional CX experiences across the entirety of the journey is where the industry is headed, with the consumer spearheading this. At the end of day, it always comes back to delivering on human understanding and expectations.

Q. How have the needs or demands coming from brands changed today compared to when you entered the industry?

A: I look back and think how much easier things were. The role of CMO, let alone marketing, has seen a fast evolution over the last couple years. CMO scopes have broadened more than any other department, not to mention the increase of economic and business pressures. Acquisition and supply chain costs have risen immensely, and they are overwhelmed with having to do more with less, increased turnover, media fragmentation, and internal organizational dysfunction. These pressures transcend their businesses and impact their partners as well. 

Any agency that says these are easy times is simply lying. Brands are asking partners to be able to answer their heightened needs at reduced budget levels, putting their partners in a tough space by needing them to get creative with delivery and commercials models while not being able to sacrifice time or the quality of the product. Sometimes they won’t even let the partner get creative with their commercial strategies to help solve this, and to this point I’m seeing an even bigger disconnect between marketing and procurement departments. 

Another thing we see is an increased need for diverse agency staff, which is often mandated across new business initiatives. It’s interesting though, because this is something FKA can intrinsically deliver; however, I have seen clients make these mandates to only show up with all white client decision-makers. Brands need agencies, and vice versa—  it’s time for the relationship to be a partnership.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.