by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
Padraic is disappointed
I’ve posted twice recently on technology and the DMC sector and while there has been some reaction and commentary I admit to being somewhat disappointed by the overall response. Maybe it’s silly season ennui or vacation time detachment but other than some Retweets, Tahira’s partially related blog, Alison Hall’s follow-up in MeetingsNet and a reference in a recent VIPResources blog my contention that DMCs are being left behind by technology was overwhelmingly ratified by a deafening silence. And if I wanted proof that my instincts are right then I got it in abundance last week when the merger of Omnicom and Publicis was announced in Paris.
Lessons from Mad Men
Why so? What has the merger of corporate behemoths in the Adworld to do with the DMC sector? Take a look at how corporations are organised: on the corporate spectrum, meetings, incentives and events – the primary sandbox of the DMC community – sit adjacent to, or underneath, Marketing & Communications (MarCom). Advertising and PR also belong there and thus provide a useful bell weather or benchmark industry for us. What happens in Advertising and PR – the traditional and long established MarCom channels – will eventually happen in the meetings space too, it’s only a matter of time. We have already seen how Advertising and PR has become increasingly global, dominated by a small number of big players who have built a presence in key cities and markets around the world by systematic acquisition of local partners. Years later this is now happening in the meetings industry too with US, UK and EU meetings and events companies now competing for world domination – think BI, BCD, UniversalProcon and, of course, MCI. It’s even happening in the DMC sector too with global organisations like GEP, Euromic, AlliedPRA and, of course, Ovation Global DMC.
It’s all about Digital
The Onmicom/Publicis merger is interesting on a number of planes not least that it represents the coming together of a quintessentially European ad house, Publicis, and a wholeheartedly American organisation, Omnicom. They are coming together as equals with John Wren (Omnicom) and Maurice Levy (Publicis) sharing the leadership role for the next 30 months. It remains to be seen whether 2 diverse cultures will also prove to be divergent. Most interesting, however, are the reasons given for the merger. Omnicom and Publicis are not coming together to combat more effectively against other global agencies like UK based WPP, for example. They are merging because advertising channels are changing faster than the weather on Ireland’s west coast and big ad houses must now do battle with technology companies like Facebook and Google. If advertising used to be about catchy slogans and slick imagery then now, according to Maurice Levy, it’s about
“crunching billions of data in order to come with a message which is relevant to a very narrow audience”.
“Everything three years from now is going to be digital. Everything that we do, even billboards nowadays, are digital or becoming digital”.
What can we do?
So two giants in the Ad space are concluding that their marketplace survival in the digital age will stem from pooling their resources, embracing digital technology both as a means to deliver services to their clients and, crucially, as an additional service to deliver and re-booting the radar screen upon which they routinely monitor competition to include the Trojan Horse competition from the likes of Facebook. How might this lesson play out for the DMC sector? Here are some suggestions:
1. View technology both as a means and an end
DMC need to embrace technology is a thoroughly wholehearted way. It’s not enough to say “but we use technology – we have our own proprietary RFP response platform or we’re big on social media or our website is responsive”. All of these things should be taken for granted. Entrepreneurial DMCs are doing all these things while, simultaneously, partnering with tech firms to develop proprietary, destination-based apps that they can white-label to a host of potential clients, both existing and new. These apps range from team building games to destination information to cultural activities. They are also using digital platforms to bring these products to as wide as possible a marketplace including the ever-increasing community of direct buyers who currently patronise GuidExplorer, Viator and the many other exciting on-line destination offers.
2. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts
Following a 10 year fruitless siege the Greeks sailed away from Troy leaving a large wooden horse outside the city gates as their “parting gift”. Once they had gone the delighted Trojans brought the huge horse into their walled city as a war trophy only for Greek soldiers, hidden in the belly of the horse, to emerge and open the gates again to the awaiting army who had sailed back under cover of darkness. DMCs cannot afford to flirt with technology like the Trojans and the horse. They must stop skating across its dangerous surface and get right inside it, master and tame it so that it’s something that serves them and not something to which they become an unwitting sacrificial lamb. They must open their eyes to the real competition and maybe even partner with other DMCs in their destination to build on-line products and services that are informed by decades of DMC wisdom and understanding.
3. Change your hiring policies
It’s true to say that most DMC work environments are eclectic and diverse. I am unaware of any under-graduate “vocational” courses that qualify you as a DMC so most teams are a motley crew of marketeers, business grads, travel and tourism guys, ex hoteliers etc However, most DMCs don’t have a dedicated Techie or Digital guy and this is now what needs to happen. DMCs should be hiring real technies whose world view is different from theirs but who’ll quickly find the magic connections between DMC products and services and the brave new world of technological innovation.
So there are my three suggestions. What suggestions do you have? Or am I over-stating the case and is everything fine and rosy in the DMC Paradise?
Padraic Gilligan works for Ovation Global DMC and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org