Hybridity, Cultural Sensibility and Intrinsic Passion

January 24, 2013

Alvin Wasserman
Alvin Wasserman

On January 31st, the BCAMA will be holding the next Breakfast Speaker Series (BSS) event – the ever-popular Annual Ad Agency Panel. This year, speakers from Wasserman + Partners, Station X, DDB and Cossette will share their insights on marketing approaches in an ever-changing landscape.

In the second instalment of Conversations with Four Thought Leaders, Layla Romero, a member of the BCAMA Marketline Committee, chats with panellist Alvin Wasserman, President of Vancouver-based Wasserman + Partners Advertising.

by Layla Romero

LR: How has social affected your business at the agency?

Alvin: It’s given us additional tools to work with – it’s allowed us to widen our reach as an agency, which gives us more opportunities to convey our clients’ campaigns. We apply social media where it’s appropriate, whether to build a larger audience for our campaigns, build out our messages through various channels, or to maintain the momentum of current projects. In-between projects, we’ve also used it to strengthen the bonds between brands and the people who support them.

LR: What percentage of your projects involve elements of social media?

Alvin: Of our current projects, 85% involve social media elements; some campaigns require a greater involvement with social media than others do.

LR: You’ve been recognized by Forbes as one of the leading global agencies in regards to your competency in social media. What differentiates you from the others?

Alvin: You know, I’m not sure how they measured that, but we’re glad to accept the praise. (Laughs). It’s possible that our work simply showed up in online searches; we’ve created campaigns for well-recognized brands, and we were also early adopters of digital media. We view digital as a critical and evolving component of our overall marketing toolkit, as opposed to it being a separate department.

LR: Are you particularly adept in its use?

Alvin: I use it personally and it’s a valuable element of the agency, but I’m not excessively active in it. It’s not like I’m online all day. There are others here who are more specialized in its use. That said, there’s a lot of cross-training that goes on within the agency, in that one person teaches others how to use it, or we get involved in online and outside conference learning in the area. It has become integrated in many different aspects of the projects. We’re continuously learning to apply it as it grows in influence.

LR: How do you approach issues such as brand loyalty and engagement when faced with today’s skeptical/fickle audiences?

Alvin: We make it so that brands provide their customer bases with something of real value. Our agency is made up of regular people, and we understand that like us, others aren’t looking to be “sold”. Ultimately, we get paid to encourage a transaction between brands and the people who use them, but in doing that we don’t look to push people into places they don’t want to be. We attempt to convey the brands’ characteristics and personalities in a way that’s appealing to the public. Think of it like a waiter – you want them around when you want something, but you don’t want someone who’s constantly hovering around and interrupting you the rest of the time. We’re looking to represent our brands in a way that’s respectful to people and allows them to feel understood and catered to, rather than commercially interrupted.

LR: Have recent changes in digital media impacted job positions and responsibilities at the agency?

Alvin: Yes, there’s a lot more training that goes on. Comfort with digital media is no longer a casual requirement – it’s now a necessity. It’s created a need for what I call “hybrids”, or “T-shaped people”: we employ individuals with one or two main competencies, which are then supported by relevant but less-specialized skills. Nowadays, digital media manifests in a great number of ways. We may have someone who excels in art direction, but they may also possess a knack for the technological components of a project. People have varied skillsets, and in some ways it’s as if we’re undergoing a mini-Renaissance. We seek and train for this multi-passion quality in our people.

LR: What do you predict will happen to advertising in traditional mass media (TV, radio, print) over the next five years?

Alvin: I think that it will still be an important part of the mix. If you consider it in terms of cost-per-person, traditional mass media often still provides us with the best value. It’s become more of a niche market, in that we’re working with smaller pools of consumers, but don’t let the myths fool you: people who spend a lot of time online still watch plenty of TV. They divide their time between different screens. Regardless of the advent of digital media, people will continue looking for original content. Look at Netflix, which is set to launch its specialty original programming. Marketers just have to be clever about the spaces they buy.

LR: What inspires you? How did you become interested in the advertising world?

Alvin: Idea generation. I’ve always been passionate about problem-solving and about creating connections for people where they didn’t originally see them. I could spend hours undoing a knot – I love a challenge – and the same goes for looking for solutions to a business problem. There are so many ways you can do this, like through storytelling and uncovering or expanding a brand’s personality.

LR: You’re originally from Montreal. Are there differences between a Vancouver-based agency and another based in your hometown?

Alvin: Absolutely. Montreal has a very different way of looking at the world – there’s a degree of intensity and a certain “emotional reality” to people’s interactions. It’s a culture that’s passionate and expressive, and in advertising you see that successful brands are able to root themselves in this emotional sensibility. Vancouver is more contained in its intensity, but it’s also an environment that firmly expresses its quality of life choices. Our agency has thrived by blending these two approaches.

LR: We have talked about digital media and its effects on marketing. Regardless of these changes, are there any principles that have remained the same?

Alvin: There are, and will always be, business problems to be solved. Nowadays, you see projects that present a brand beautifully, but the core message gets lost in the weeds. No matter what, killer strategy still trumps creativity. You need to remain true to the brand and its story, and this has to be done without the agency voice becoming a source of distraction. You’re not looking to glorify your agency by imposing your approach and entering award shows to be recognized for creativity – the agency is there to allow the brand to express itself and thrive in increasingly challenging environments.

Get more details here and buy your tickets now for the January 31st BSS event. Spaces fill up quickly for this popular event – don’t miss your opportunity to “Come Hungry. Leave Full.” after gaining invaluable insight from Vancouver’s own marketing greats.

Layla Romero (@laylayuki), is a member of the BCAMA Marketline Committee. Aside from a variety of marketing gigs, you will probably never guess how she actually makes her living… (Editor’s Note: You’ll never guess!)