Agency Evolution: Agent of Change? Interview with Spark Design

It’s no secret that technology has fundamentally changed how brands and their audiences connect, engage and communicate. Social media is forcing a shift in the mindset of audiences, and causing marketing agencies to re-evaluate how they approach brand engagement. There are two key questions: Is traditional marketing dead? Should marketing, PR and advertising agencies jump on the social media bandwagon to achieve some level of relevance?

While technology is a critical component of the ever-changing marketing landscape, it’s really the people who are at the heart of this shift, especially those who are willing to understand the importance of key foundational elements of marketing while carefully integrating new technologies into their overall strategy. The question remains: Is social media just a fad, or is it a critical communication channel that agencies shouldn’t overlook?

 That’s why I reached out to Vince Adam, founder and president of Spark Design, to learn his thoughts on this evolution and how it’s impacting his business model and services. 

Spark is our marketing agency for Lumension and they have really led the way in redefining the way we approach marketing. Spark was also the first agency we worked with to launch our ebook: 7 Things Every CEO Should Know About Information Security and Shift Happens: The Evolution in Application Whitelisting.

After more than 15 years in the advertising and design field, Vince has seen it all. So many agencies are jumping on the social media bandwagon in hopes of getting a piece of the pie. Amid these changes, Spark Design is standing firm.

Tell me a little about Spark Design and your background.

I’ve been in the advertising and design space for more than 15 years. My journey began shortly after I graduated from college, when I started out at a small technology company and then went to an advertising firm. After working at multiple advertising and design firms, I was inspired to take what I had learned and start my own design firm, so I launched Spark Design in 1996. My inspiration behind this venture was a personal one — my best friend died early in life, and that changed my perspective on life. I wanted to take more risks and do what I knew best — run an agency that was unique.

How have agencies evolved over the years?

Changes are happening all the time. Even 15 years ago, agencies had to change from what we called traditional approaches and incorporate new methodologies. I witnessed a lot of agencies chasing after what was hot at the moment — technology firms. A new breed of agencies cropped up, and existing firms changed their identities to appeal to a new target client base. This is true today as agencies try to re-invent themselves as social media shops or online marketing firms.

The true staying power of any agency is to stay true to who they are and what they do while adapting to the changing landscape. We’ve always stayed true to brand managers by focusing on what really matters at the end of the day — the brand and incorporating proven strategy and tactics. Since the beginning, we have focused on multimedia approaches. While trying to remain trendsetters in the industry, we continually learn about new technologies and trends, and then assess whether these approaches are appropriate for our clients. We don’t try to shift the agency or change our identity, and we don’t allow ourselves to be seduced by technology. Niche shops that cater to the latest and greatest trends, such as social media, will become irrelevant.

In your opinion, how have consumer/business demands changed, and are agencies doing an adequate job of meeting those demands?

One thing I’ve noticed is that businesses or clients have a fragmented approach to marketing. A lot of them have yet to understand that it’s not about just one technology; it’s about a strategy that encompasses a bigger picture of online marketing, public relations, advertising, etc. Our job as an agency is to guide our clients through a brand management strategy that combines lead generation, social media, public relations, etc. All of these things have to align with their overall goal, and they have to stay consistent and committed, or they risk confusing their audience.

It’s an agency’s job to become experts in their respective fields. Our key differentiator at Spark Design is that we make sure to get the right experts and make them available to our customers.

What role does social media play in your overall strategy?

Our clients are demanding that we have presence there. To that end, as I’ve said, we have had to evolve and incorporate social media into our model so that when clients ask for it, we can offer that service under one umbrella. We’re continuing to push and looking for new ways to integrate social media into our strategy while keeping the main focus on brand principles. We also strive to demystify some concepts about social media.

Your agency focuses on advertising. What is your response when people say advertising is dead?

Advertising is not dead. That’s like saying communication is dead.  From a very basic point of view, advertising is how we communicate via a paid mechanism.  PR is the nonpaid part. And social media is just another channel added to our aresenal of communication tools. How we integrate and leverage these media channels is at the core of an agency’s value. Think about the evolution of advertising, the advent of radio, television, the Internet. Through the years did advertising die? On the contrary it grew as a discipline,  a science, and as an art. Remember Marshall McLuhan’s mantra? The medium is the message. Smart agency people understand that new technology driving new ways to communicate and new ways of behavior is key to our success. As communication experts we exploit the medium and align it with our clients’ messaging. New media feeds the need for advertising. Our mission remains the same. The tools and technology at our disposal change and are really just the evolution of human progress. Most people are shifting from print to online, and that’s where agencies have to be flexible and agile. Agencies have to understand the pros and cons of both print and online, and they have to be prepared to provide insight and education on the value of those channels.

How can agencies respond to a client’s budgetary constraints?

When we’re working with a client-side marketing team, we face huge challenges in delivering value on such a small budget. Second thing is agencies must understand how to be nimble and flexible for the client — using creative ways to stay within budget. Look for unique channels to save costs and work with the client’s partners to see if there is an opportunity to join forces and streamline some of the efforts. For example, we had a client with a $50,000 budget to launch a major event. We went to their partners and vendors to raise capital for this event. The governor showed up, and the event was a huge success because we were able to leverage their existing partner relationships.

About Vince Adam

He is the founder and president of Spark Design, Spark Magazine and Spark of Hope.

 

Vince’s expertise is in concept and design, creative direction and marketing strategies, while his responsibilities extend to client relations and project management. He has catered to a diverse group of clients, including technology-based and telecommunication companies, industrial manufacturers and homebuilders.

Vince was honored by The Business Journal of Phoenix with the “40 Under 40” Award, recognizing influential business leaders in the Valley. He has been a member or supporter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Make-a-Wish, and CASA. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communications from Northern Illinois University and is a member of the Phoenix Advertising Club, AIGA, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Tempe Chamber of Commerce and Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

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