Q&A Wilderness founder on adding paid media to its services

The Drum Network
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Wilderness' founder talks Paid Media and explains why the agency decided to add this feature.

Wilderness have recently bolstered its offering to include paid media. This has involved building a team across paid social, search and display.

The Drum Network caught up with the agency's founder and managing director to find out why he felt the need to add in this service and how their clients have responded to this additional capability.

What prompted you to offer paid media as one of your services?

We are an agency that was founded on the belief that agencies could be better. That they could deliver better work, in a way that is better for its people, and for clients who want to do better.

With the democratising nature of media planning and buying and evolving client expectations, we felt as a Strategic-led digital agency we were perfectly placed to offer our clients a better paid media solution. One that is based on transparency and openness, we give clients access to their ad accounts so they can see where the marketing spend is being invested.

We are agile in our approach and need to be for always-on broadcasters like NBC Universal and the Discovery Network, optimising campaigns in real-time and ensuring this is aligned with the wider strategic oversight we provide our clients.

We could see a need for this transparent and agile approach to paid media not just for our growing client list but also to support both the strategy and creative divisions of our business.

How have your clients responded to your bolstered offering?

Our clients have responded in a unanimously positive way, as we now offer some element of paid media management to all of our existing clients. In doing so we've replaced incumbent networks and major players based on collaborative, plain-speaking and passionate approach.

From the strategic side of our business, most of our work is in supporting established brands navigate some element of flux or change within their business model or the wider industry, usually on a retained basis over several years. That means our business is built to work collaboratively to augment and support existing client teams and we take this approach with paid media.

We pride ourselves on being plain-speaking and honest with our clients and I think this has really resonated with our clients, particularly on the paid media side. There's a real sense that clients have been "left in the dark" when it comes to paid media planning and buying.

As an independent agency, passion is at our core. It's not just something we put in a deck or write on our wall, though our manifesto is printed on the wall of our offices in Shoreditch, it's true to the work we want to deliver and the clients we want to partner with. We have a simple hiring question that really informs our approach "if you could work with any client in the next 18 months who would it be?" We canvas the answers to these questions from our team every six months and use the insight to inform our new business strategy. All of this is to say, we win as an agency and a team when we are passionate about the work we do and the clients we do it for.

We bring knowledge and expertise along with this passion and it's allowed us to win some of our teams dream clients, HBO is an example of that, an account we won this year supporting the brand in the UK across paid media, social strategy and creative content production. It was hard not to be passionate about working on Season 8 of Game of Thrones!

Why do you think agencies are now bringing Paid Media in-house?

It's a great question. I think in truth every agency will, in some way be a media business within the next 3-5 years, if they are not already. Traditional creative and ad agencies are already trying to jump into this space as are mobile and pure-play digital agencies.

We think, however, that we are uniquely placed to support clients changing needs in this space. Having evolved as an award-winning strategic-led business supported by an in-house creative division and full-service digital media buying team, we can provide the level of strategic and creative thinking and know-how that clients want with a transparent and agile media buying solution that they now need.

I see our future as a paid media business supported by an award-winning strategic consultancy and in-house creative division. I think the question for agencies in a few years time will be why haven't they brought paid media in-house.

What are some of the benefits of offering Paid Media in-house?

It's been an amazing development of the agency, in that we have for a long time led the creative thinking and social management of a clients brand but then seen that through to its conclusion, be it brand growth, monetisation across video, or a sales uplift. We not in a position to be able to answer that once sticky question of ROI for our clients across their digital channels and demonstrate first-hand the power of our strategic thinking or creative execution.

We've seen this with clients like the Discovery Network who we have worked with for a number of years now. We set out to showcase a value from their social audience, who are unlikely to migrate over to linear viewers on paid-for TV. Instead, we built a long-form video strategy, before people thought that was a thing, that has allowed us to monetise millions of video views. Supporting this with paid media has really amplified what has been possible organically, though those numbers are impressive of themselves, and we've then taken those learnings and applied them to our organic strategy.

And did you encounter any challenges you had to overcome when setting it up?

Yes, there are always huge challenges when as an independent agency of just 30 people you are competing against established networks and incumbents with unparalleled resources. But I love a challenge and I genuinely believe that clients are demanding a change. We see that when clients like the GSMA, the governing body of the mobile industry, tell us that we are delivering 3-5 times the value of their previous agency, that's their words, not ours.

Of course, we have a long way to go and we are just at the start of this shift but we are relishing the challenge of taking on established incumbents and showing clients a better way of approaching paid media. Our challenge is now to grow from the base we have created over the last 12 months and deliver against our goal of transforming our clients and creating a lasting impact on their business, their audience and their industry.

Where do you expect to see the industry heading in the next five years and how do you plan for the agency to keep up?

As I said, I think all agencies will become media businesses and rely more and more on performance marketing expertise. How that is delivered and by what type of agency is undecided but I do think independents and specialist digital-first agencies will play a huge part in this.

Ultimately clients buying decisions will come down to efficiency and the developments in self-serve ad platforms and the emergence of advanced TV advertising, paid media will become less about buying power and more about intelligence. That's a challenge I think we are best placed to meet and one I'm relishing.

Tom Jarvis, Founder and managing director at Wilderness.

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