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GroupM’s Josh Black predicts rise of the freelancer in adland as brands cut costs, take content creation in-house

The advertising industry will see “the rise of the freelancer” as more brands take their agencies off retainers at a time of cost cutting, GroupM’s regional head of content Josh Black said at CASBAA Convention in Hong Kong last week.

Josh Black (on screen) talks on a Branded Content panel at CASBAA

Josh Black (on screen) talks on a Branded Content panel at CASBAA

In a panel discussion on branded content, Black was asked by moderator Pushkar Sane, founder of analytics firm Convergination, for his views on the implications of “owned journalism”, with brands setting up their own inhouse content production teams.

“Corporations are under tremendous stress to cut costs. They’re asking people like Tony [Chow, the newly appointed head of hotel group Marriott’s inhouse content team] to do more with less. They’re not interested in hiring extra staff to do stuff that isn’t core to their business. Or if they do, then they let them all go [when budgets get squeezed],” he said.

Brands will “get into journalism,” Black agreed, but not on a large scale just yet. We won’t see a massive [content] team in Unilever or P&G in the near future.”

On the structural changes the advertising industry is facing, Black commented: “We will see rise of the freelancer. Brands want to get rid of retainers. A lot of brands see agencies as suppliers. The CMO of pepsi bashed the industry a lot recently,” Black said, suggesting that a lot of what he said was true.

Last month, Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group, attacked the advertising industry, agencies in particular, at an Association of National Advertising event in the US.

Echoing Jakeman’s views, Black said: “The ad industry has not evolved enough as structural changes have come about. A lot more freelancers, who are specialists in their fields, are being engaged for shorter amounts of time. Everyone is focused on costs at the moment. That will continue,” he said.

On the threat that brands taking content inhouse poses agencies, Black suggested that media agencies would benefit from it.

“It should grow us,” he said. “Our role is to educate clients, help them build assets and transfer knowledge. As long as agencies can add value, there’s still a role to play.”

“On the media agency side, it’s a scale business. If just one brand is trying it [branded content], it’s like walking into Tony’s hotel and he’ll give you a rack rate. We [GroupM] bring 40 per cent of the market together, we bring scale in buying and can drive value in that space.”

Tony Chow

Tony Chow

Tony Chow, Marriott International’s APAC director of creative and content marketing said the company works with agencies a lot, even though it set up a content studio last year.

“We need help with the heavy lifting,” he said. “Agencies function as partners, production companies too. We have the knowhow to do it, but we don’t do it all.”

Commenting how on the business of branded content was changing, Black said: “In the ’70s and ’80s, advertising was about art. Then is was about science. Going forward it will be both,” he said.

Data will be crucial in what Black described as “smart storytelling.”

He pointed to a piece of content by Macau casino giant Studio City he’d seen the previous evening, a 20-minute film featuring Hollywood giants Martin Scorsese, Leonardo Di Caprio, Brad Pitt and Robert De Niro.

“There were no logos for Studio City, but the brand was clearly featured in its hotel properties. That’s the future. Great storytelling but also smart storytelling, distributed properly and measured,” he said.

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