Mediaweek Agency 50: AFFINITY’s Angela Smith discusses navigating the challenges of 2023

Mediaweek Agency 50 - Angela Smith

“It was exciting to feel validation for the unwavering focus of the team on delivering business-changing outcomes for our clients”

Mediaweek held its inaugural Power Lunch in October, celebrating the successes of the media industry and the people who make it.

Taking the #30 place on the Mediaweek Agency 50 list is Angela Smith, chief brand officer of AFFINITY, the independent, full-service media and creative agency based in Sydney.

Mediaweek caught up with Smith, who shared her thoughts on creating a supportive environment for their people, how industry issues can be solved or improved and navigating the year ahead for agencies and clients.

Mediaweek: Congratulations on making the #30 spot on our Mediaweek Agency 50 list. What was your reaction to your placement?

Angela Smith: What a thrill. It’s always a bit surreal to receive recognition for what you choose to do every day and amongst many other great businesses. But equally, it was exciting to feel validation for the unwavering focus of the team on delivering business-changing outcomes for our clients.

MW: How does your position on the list reflect the achievements made by Affinity?

AS: We’ve really focused on creating an environment that supports and stretches an immensely talented group of people to help bring about work we’re all proud of putting our name to. Being recognised as Australia’s leading wellbeing practice in 2022 by AFR Boss helped reinforce our commitment to building this culture.
With a raft of internal promotions as well as doubling the size of our team, it was particularly rewarding to receive effectiveness awards in the past year from work led by some of our younger folk.
We’ve really directed our energies to ensure a diversity of thinking and genuine collaboration across the entire team. It means everyone feels valued and everyone accelerates their learning and growth – the secret to satisfaction and motivation.

MW: What are three industry issues on your mind, and in your opinion, how can they be solved or achieved?

AS: Effectiveness. As an industry we need to continue to improve in demonstrating our impact. We simply need to do a better job in proving the effectiveness of our thinking and the commercial benefits it delivers for our clients, otherwise we risk being reduced to a commoditised service. It’s probably one of the reasons it’s been such a strong year for many of the Indies who are able to focus on the commercial success of their clients.The ability to think in terms of business outcomes whether it’s in ideating, using data, marketing science and in measuring results, will be essential to our long-term sustainability as an overall industry.

Service. Around $9 billion is spent on media every single year; and so much of this is not by big business. Yet clients that aren’t in the top ten or so spenders in Australia don’t always get the smarts and service they need. To build a thriving and sustainable industry, we need to lean back into a strong service culture that builds deeper client-agency relationships based in trust and mutual respect.

People. We’re a professional services industry, aka a people industry. There’s a lot of rhetoric about shortages and ways of working, but at the end of the day it’s important to provide clear purpose to a team, invest in their ability to do their roles and provide them with space and the trust to do what they do best.

The psychology of this approach has been accepted since the 90s yet we still see agencies throwing around rewards, schemes and incentives without regard to what it is that actually keeps a human being happy and motivated. I’m confident that if more of our industry knuckled down to understanding what really matters to people and leading a business with this in mind, we’d have fewer articles about burnout and talent crises.

MW: What is your outlook for Affinity in the year ahead?

AS: We’re excited and optimistic in what will be a challenging 2023 for both agencies and clients alike. Agencies that are primed to deliver demonstrable returns on their clients’ investments, on a consistent basis, will continue to grow and lead the way.

As the dark clouds loom on the horizon, it’s timely to note there’s growing evidence for advertisers to do more than keep the lights on in difficult times. A recent study from Ehrenberg-Bass showed that brands that went dark, or turned off their advertising, for 12 months experienced a double digit decline in market share value.

Keeping up to date with the latest in marketing science helps us to provide valuable insight to our clients whatever the economic headwinds.

We’re especially excited about announcing a new structure in the coming weeks that leans into the opportunities that abound. So, watch this space!

MW: What are your hopes for the industry in 2023?

AS: I’m incredibly positive about the future of our industry. Industry bodies such as the IMAA have injected renewed energy into the market – it’s important for all of us to keep on our toes and stay dynamic.

Personally, in the past year I’ve been impressed, inspired, and buoyed by the genuine depth of talent all around us in this wonderful and meaningful industry we all are lucky.

Top image: Angela Smith

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