Looking Back at March’s Highlights of 2018
March has a lot of big plans in store for 2019.
We recently took some time with our CEO Martin Jones and President Cheryl Gale to get their thoughts on the year behind us and the year ahead. They discussed some highlights of 2018, a few major trends they saw build up steam over the past year that will continue into the new one, and what they’re most excited about for the agency and our industry going forward into 2019.
Looking back at 2018 – if you could just name one, what was the biggest highlight of the year for March?
Cheryl: Last year we formally launched our new positioning and brand values as an agency. Our mission, vision and values were the result of a long-term brand strategy, all about asserting March as an innovation-centric agency. “Innovation Inside Out” is what we aim for, and our core values are how we live up to that every day.
What were some of the major trends you saw in 2018, either at March and/or across the industry as a whole?
Cheryl: One of the biggest trends I saw last year was a huge shift in understanding, and a growing awareness of, the importance of developing unique, authentic brand stories. This is something we started talking about a year ago and the number of clients and prospects who are interested in our capabilities on this has easily tripled, or more. That need and our gained experience in doing this work is fueling our upcoming product launch of March’s brand communications strategy (stay tuned!).
Thinking about who we are as a brand, who our customers need us to be and what kind of partner do our customers want, has also led to a sea change in how our clients evaluate their communications channels. Especially social media.
Martin: I think we saw social media, particularly for B2B, come to a crossroads. We’ve seen and heard from more B2B clients that are questioning the business value of platforms like Twitter and especially Facebook. Just recently we were talking to a new client that said they didn’t want to bother with Facebook. A year ago, no client would ever say that. The thinking used to be, we might as well do social and reach across as many platforms as we can, because why not? Social was not something a lot of companies put a ton of thought into, and their perspective was more along the lines of, there’s no downside to being on Facebook, so why wouldn’t we bother with it?
Today we see clients and prospects thinking about social much more critically. There is a downside to being associated with Facebook that many weren’t thinking about a year or two ago. With Facebook’s reputation taking hit after hit, is the reach you get out of being on Facebook worth that association? Those are questions popping up more – and they’re good things to be thinking about! That’s a new development.
The growth behind paid programs – paid social and especially paid editorial – also really took off last year. We have a client that spent a quarter million dollars on a sponsorship opportunity for a contributed content series. They would not have done that a couple years ago. More and more we’re seeing publications like The New York Times, The Guardian and the Financial Times reckon with the fact that their subscription models are not sufficient to replace dwindling advertising dollars. And the way they’re reckoning with that reality is to dip into their editorial pools – something that was previously untouchable – and outsource them for contributed content to attract new eyeballs.
Cheryl: At the same time we see paid editorial growing, we also see the media landscape becoming more fragmented. Recently Buzzfeed announced it was laying off over 200 of its employees, and Verizon Media Group announced over 800 of its own layoffs. But as Sam Whitmore pointed out, as bad as these tech journalist layoffs are, it’s not like the journalists themselves just disappear. They branch off to strike out on their own, or they get swept up by new publishing companies. They spread out, which creates more opportunities for us/ As Sam put it, “No matter what may happen to the publishing business, the men and women who bring it value will publish somewhere, sometime…and they will need the resources only PR can bring.” That resource they need is quality writing and storytelling. And we’re storytellers; that’s what we bring to the table for clients. So when you put paid editorial and the changes in the media environment back to back, you see an opportunity for brands to pay to reach bigger audiences, via bigger media players, off the back of high-quality storytelling and journalist relationships – exactly the things March offers.
Martin: The changes in editorial feed into the changes in social too, because better promotion of content over social will be extremely important. Companies are developing more scrutiny over the usefulness of social programs, and social will have to work harder to justify itself. And we like that, because it means our clients are becoming more thoughtful about how they use social. It’s not just handing over the company Twitter login to an intern, or spamming out generic tweets that sound like they came from a robot. A more thoughtful approach to social means stronger channels for communicating with audiences and promoting content, paid or otherwise.
Check back tomorrow for part 2, where Martin and Cheryl share their thoughts on where they see the agency going in 2019.