Hawke Media Is Challenging Brands to “Dump” Their Agencies

Erik Huberman, CEO and founder of marketing consultancy Hawke Media, has some pretty strong – if not outright harsh – words for most media agencies out there: “They’re full of [expletive].”

Before founding the Los Angeles-based company in 2014, Huberman launched and sold two commerce companies – Swag of the Month and Ellie – and also consulted with brands.

But his experience dealing with agencies was less than ideal.

Measuring creative performance has long been a challenge for brands, who often lack access to digital creative insights. While agencies have been able to show post-campaign data to clients, they often don’t deliver on promised results – leaving many disillusioned, Huberman said.

“I just ran into terrible agency after terrible agency – they dropped the ball over and over again,” he said. “I think anyone in the industry would agree that the vast majority of agencies have no idea what they're doing, and the few that are good tend to get really expensive, want long contracts, high minimums and only want to work with the Fortune 1000.”

Hawke Media – which has worked with over 2,000 brands, including Red Bull and Alibaba – recently partnered with Junction AI, a tech startup that measures digital marketing campaigns using artificial intelligence.

Junction AI uses a brand’s creative assets – copy, images and video – to measure how the ads will perform before and during a campaign, and provides brands with data to help them improve performance.

“It’s so hard to have an objective view of creative – that's the hard part that's been traditionally difficult,” Huberman said.

The two companies launched an initiative last month to hold agencies more accountable – and partly to drum up business – boldly dubbed “Dump Your Agency,” in which Junction AI offered to “audit” brands’ digital campaigns run by their agencies in order to determine whether they were delivering promised returns on investment. Initial audits are done at no cost.

Junction AI Founder and CEO Vance Reavie said that brands need answers on what worked and why in order to boost revenue and reduce ineffective spend.

“We’ve done plenty of initial audits resulting in about 30 serious inquiries,” Reavie said. “All companies seemed to have a feeling that they should be doing more, or that their results could be more significant but they are unsure of what to modify.”

AdExchanger spoke to Hawke Media’s Huberman and Junction AI’s Reavie.

ADEXCHANGER: What exactly is “Dump Your Agency”?

ERIK HUBERMAN: It’s called Dump Your Agency because, frankly, the majority suck, and you're probably going to want to dump your agency when you actually look at [your creative] objectively.

Through our partnership with Junction, we saw that they did a great job of objectively monitoring creative.

We started talking about doing a joint campaign, and I was like, why don't we help you guys hold people's feet to the fire. Let's put out a service where you can come in and analyze the creative being created by these agencies that are supposedly good, and from an objective, artificial-intelligence-driven platform, we’ll tell [brands] if it's good or not.

What does this allow advertisers to do that they couldn't do with their agencies?

HUBERMAN: If I have an ad, and then you look at an ad, we can have completely different opinions on how good it is.

The performance, obviously, tells you, but a lot of times that's too late. Also, you don't know what the opportunity cost is.

Junction AI has built a platform that allows, through so many different variables and so much data, an ongoing learning capability to look at creative before you run it and tell you whether it's going to perform. It could say, hey, you should have two people in every ad instead of one, because your audience wants to see that social dynamic in your ads. It’s things like that that you just wouldn't even think of.

It also allows for that objective view of creative before it runs and before you waste a bunch of money with your agency.

Where do they go after they dump their agencies? Hawke Media?

HUBERMAN: That’s an option. We’re not pushing that. Obviously, there's a partial hope in that, but it's sincerely a little more altruistic than that. I just don't want people to be taken advantage of, and that's really where it comes from.

How are you actually analyzing a brand's data?

HUBERMAN: It’s mostly driven by Junction – it’s their AI technology. They have a whole submission form to give them access to [a brand’s] data, and then they analyze it through their technology.

It’s mostly first- and third-party data, because it's pulling from the platforms Junction is plugged into, too, and then it's also their data. Junction AI has been analyzing so many campaigns, they have their own repository of data on their end.

What does the timing of the partnership say about the current digital media landscape?

HUBERMAN: It goes back to the difficulty of advertising digitally right now. When you factor in iOS 14 … it really did change things for performance. That, combined with the rush to digital advertising because of the pandemic and the rush to buying online, really increased the competition.

It's gotten harder to advertise on Facebook and Google and these platforms. Doing it right is more critical than ever, because it’s become harder to compete.

I heard the funniest metaphor from a marketer who said these little Facebook agencies are kind of like used-car salesmen – they're selling this kind of BS dream that you're going to be a billionaire because you advertise on Facebook. And while Facebook's a great tool, it's been, for some companies, the end all be all – until now.

Are Google’s planned phaseout of third-party cookies and Apple’s recent privacy changes on your clients’ radar?

HUBERMAN: If I was a Facebook agency, I would be panicked. Facebook's had a great trajectory, but I think it's going to be difficult, and we're already seeing clients asking for other advertising options.

For us, no one stops spending money because of iOS 14 – consumers are still there, you just have to find them differently. You have to change your strategy on how to reach them.

How many brands have used Junction AI’s system since the launch of the “Dump Your Agency” campaign?

VANCE REAVIE: Unfortunately, I am unable to release exact numbers or brand names, as it is sensitive to our privacy agreements, but I can say we have seen a spike in the variety of companies and brands, both big and small in the B2C sector, seeking the extra data.

Can you share any findings, case studies or surprising data?

REAVIE: I think the most surprising find has been that more agencies than brands have reached out to us for initial audits. There is a likelihood that the clients raised a concern to the agency.

Have any brands actually “dumped” their current agencies?

REAVIE: None have dumped their agencies that we know of yet!

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