Essence Won’t Have a Mobile Team Anymore – And Here’s Why

JeremySigelAfter two years as director of mobile for North America at Essence, Jeremy Sigel is pleased that his position has become obsolete – and he has advice for mobile chiefs at other agencies.

“Don’t hold onto mobile,” said Sigel, who stepped down as head of mobile on Tuesday and stepped up as global director of a new group inside the GroupM-owned agency that will focus on innovation and investment.

The Partnerships and Emerging Media Practice’s has a threefold remit: To own and manage relationships with Essence’s media and data partners, to stay on top of innovations in tech – everything from digital out-of-home to addressable TV and virtual reality – and to tap into those relationships to develop what Sigel referred to as “bespoke” programs for its clients.

But why give that job to a mobile guy?

Initially, there was some internal puzzlement about that very thing, but it turned out to be a pretty easy sell to the higher ups.

“At Essence, 60% of spend is mobile, but this is more about mobility than mobile,” Sigel said. “The last five years have been about making the phone into the ‘everything’ device, and now the technology that fueled the app ecosystem is bleeding into all other areas. We went from the cookie being the supreme leader to the SDK being at the epicenter of everything.”

Which is why Essence is essentially in the midst of dissolving its mobile team in favor of a structure it believes will make the agency more nimble. If mobile is everywhere, the same should go for mobile expertise across the agency, rather than keeping it cloistered among a small group of mobile cognoscenti.

In 2015, Essence launched a certification program led by the mobile practice as part of an effort to spread mobile knowledge to other teams in the agency. Essence says mobile-related aptitude increased across the board by around 59%, based on before and after quiz results.

Of the 15 mobile-specific people who previously reported to Sigel in North America, four will join the new group, as will the agency’s four-person investment practice – eight people in all.

Of the 11 remaining personnel, three will be absorbed into Essence’s biddable practice, one will join the ad ops team and seven (those who came on board as part of Essence’s acquisition of mobile agency Point Reach in 2013) will concentrate on planning and continue to report to Sigel.

As part of the new practice, Sigel will also oversee five people in London (two with a mobile background and three with investment experience), with plans to make two additional hires in the near-term.

“We’re thinking about partnerships and the future of digital channels together because the team that owns the relationships is the one that’s best suited to say, ‘Let’s start leaning into this,’” Sigel said.

Although his team will control the purse strings around innovation, Sigel said he will take pains to ensure it doesn’t become a bottleneck; proactively seeking out, testing and investing in innovative tech without getting bogged down by countless meetings with salespeople or individual RFPs.

“A salesperson’s job is to take as many meetings as possible with whoever they can find at an agency regardless of any gatekeeper you put in place,” Sigel said. “Rather than trying to control the chaos, we’re going to try and channel it to our advantage.”

The industry at large also seems to be trying to embrace that notion. Over the last year or so, Sigel said he’s noticed more and more titles and job descriptions that include the words “mobile,” “innovation” and “emerging technology.”

A quick search through LinkedIn bears this out with more than 4,000 results. There are “Directors of mobile strategy and innovation;” “VPs of innovation and mobile strategy;” “executive directors of digital media & emerging technology;” “mobile marketing product & innovation managers” and many other variations on that theme.

But it’s about self-preservation as much as it’s reflective of the ubiquity of mobile and its growing maturity as a market.

“If you’d asked me a year and a half ago, I would have been disappointed with our mobile output, and as a digital agency, we had to course correct, especially with mobile becoming the dominant platform we’re running,” Sigel said. “It’s also true that clients are starting to grow up and ask for a more robust digital offering beyond the download, and as that happens, we’re going to start to see a lot of performance-focused mobile-only agencies start to hurt.”

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