Faaez Samadi
Dec 21, 2017

Inexperience is hurting digital content: DeVries global CEO

Heidi Hovland reveals an often overlooked issue at the heart of why we see so much bad advertising content online.

Heidi Hovland
Heidi Hovland

‘Quantity over quality’ is the standard cry when it comes to explaining why so much digital content is at best derivative, and at worst just abysmal. But DeVries global CEO Heidi Hovland says there’s another underlying issue within agencies and brands that is also a key factor.

Speaking to Campaign in Singapore, Hovland said for her, the “irony about content” is that much of what makes it online isn’t given the due attention it needs to be engaging.

“When you think about the love and care, senior attention and many voices chiming in on a lot of other areas of marketing,” she says, “with content, partly because digital and social is so foreign to senior people in the industry, they’ve left it to the youngest and least experienced.”

Hovland was clear that younger employees are extremely valuable and need to contribute to the work being undertaken at agencies. But they naturally don’t have the industry experience of senior leaders, whose expertise is needed in content as with any other area.

“It’s like, ‘well they’re millennials, they’re Gen Z, they can do it’, but it’s without any connection to brand or purpose, or any sense of the principles of brand building, or of building to one narrative,” she explains. “So of course there has been a backlash [against online content broadly].

“There are these content factories, and I’m just curious about them, because I think the pendulum has to swing back” from volume to quality, she adds.

At DeVries, Hovland says the agency’s close global network – comprising around 200 staff across seven offices worldwide – means the right expertise and knowledge can be quickly assembled to meet their client’s needs. It is part of a bigger trend she is seeing regarding clients looking for smaller, agile agencies to take on projects with ever-shorter timelines.

“The idea of being a specialist agency is appealing to clients,” she says. “There’s a credibility problem in saying you do everything really well.”

For DeVries, it means focusing on content and influencer marketing, which Hovland says the agency has led the way on for several years now, and it will shortly release its proprietary influencer tool across its Asia markets.

“Influencers are the new media,” she believes, whose significance is only increasing as they evolve – especially in China and other Asian markets – from an earned media channel to a paid media tool.

“Some of the stuff they do is amazing and some isn’t so great,” Hovland readily admits. ”Brands are asking for more science and insight in making the influencer work we’re doing more authentic and credible. We have a methodology for this, and tools for targeted influencer identification.”

For China specifically, Hovland says the agency’s influencer work is taking it deeper into e-commerce and digital CRM activities – DeVries hired a specialist from Tmall in this area. She says these developments highlight the speed of innovation the country.

“China speed is different to other speed,” she quips. “We have to recognise the funnel doesn’t exist anymore. We’re never going to be an e-commerce company, but we’re going to be specialists in socialising e-commerce and making the KOL much more effective on [the relevant] social media platforms.”

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