Power of Digital

Change? Right here, right now

Dublin's digital elders Cybercom are moving up in the world. Their new office in the Docklands may be just three floors above their old one, but the view from every side of the building has put all of Dublin at their feet.

It is hard to imagine a more panoramic tribute to boom and beyond than the one you get from the fourth floor office of Cybercom at Portview House. It's all right there: an elegant new bridge leading to the squat new national convention centre; the new stadium in Lansdowne Road, named for a Cybercom client, glittering in the afternoon sun; the shining new concert venue at the Point, directly across the river, named for another client's competitor. Right beside it you can hire a VIP pod on the city's latest tourist wheeze, the enormous new observation wheel, for just €95, champers included.

Despite the dour daily headlines, new is everywhere and wherever you look there are signs of life. Apart, aptly, from the motionless cranes skulking over the still unfinished Anglo Irish Bank HQ. The champers in that particular piece of real estate is just a memory now.

It cannot dampen the enthusiasm of Jonathan Forrest, managing director of Ireland's oldest digital marketing agency. Cybercom has not felt the cutback shears as closely as most of Dublin's traditional ad agencies this time around, but Forrest is quick to point out that they set up in 1999 and within three months found themselves sitting in the ruins of a worldwide dotcom implosion. That the agency is doing so well now (38 bums on seats and hiring) says as much about their grasp of technology and the consumers' ways of absorbing media these days as it does about the economy.

‘Google, Facebook and Microsoft have set their sights on owning marketing and advertising'- Jonathan Forrest
Forrest ascribes much of their success to a willingness to embrace change, ever since those mind-altering first months. It is a line of guff you would listen to sceptically from most organisations, but when you are in the business of marketing client products and services online you have no real choice about it. The pace of change in processes, platforms and technology is ferocious.

Moore's Law contends that computer power doubles every 18 months. “Only 15 per cent of the world's information has been digitised at this point,” Forrest said, “and Google, Facebook and Microsoft are working fast to improve this. More importantly, they've set their sights on owning marketing and advertising.” Fair warning.

Apart from keeping a close eye on the big guys, staying up late to see where the consumers are playing is critical. Do not forget you must keep a step ahead of the competitors too. Not just other established digital agencies and the nouveau online arrivistes who seem to land into the mix on a daily basis.

Traditional ATL agencies have an obvious interest in holding on to what they have, while at the same time upskilling and doing their best to muscle in on newer online work opportunities for established clients. That makes it harder for digital agencies, often seen as niche players, to show all their strengths. Forrest said the difficulty for any discipline that starts on the outside and gravitates towards the centre, is trying to find room for itself at the table. It is a very crowded place to be.

Forrest feels validated by the decision of some of his agency's key clients to put digital technologies at the heart of the marketing strategy, but he's keen to get more of them to do so. “This is a journey of change for the industry, and its success is largely dependent on partnership between client and agency,” he said. “The more success we deliver for brands through digital technologies, the more we're propelled as an industry.'

‘The question we're asking ourselves at the moment is what do we need to bring with us and what do we need to leave behind.'

Cybercom see themselves competing in more traditional media too, particularly as these evolve. “We might not find ourselves making TV ads or doing traditional PR but we will be creating interactive IPTV (internet protocol tv) slots and interactive brand-funded programming. We are engaged in social PR, online media relations and online reputation management. We're not doing field sales but we are delivering enhanced consumer experiences through location-based services like mobile apps and augmented reality.”



Jonathan Forrest (right), managing director, Cybercom, with his board of director colleagues, from left: Keith Lacy, Rob Reid and Gareth Irvine.

It wasn't always so lofty. Forrest will tell you directly that the agency spent the first half of its existence stumbling around this new landscape, learning from its mistakes nice and early, then moving on. Over the last three years the focus, he says, has been more on ‘integrating the myriad of digital channels and platforms to maximise performance. We've continued diversifying our client base into overseas markets. Today about 20 per cent of our revenues come from overseas, through clients like the Open University, G-Star and Jurys Inns among others. We have been and remain quietly committed to our global aspirations. We know that quality digital travels easily. In the last two months we've sold an iPad app into the US market and global rights to two Facebook apps for three multinational clients. It's working – our turnover continues to grow year on year, which enables us to continue to invest in the best talent, space to grow and our ever evolving agency model.'

‘Over the last 12 months we've been doing what we've always done – embracing change'

The talk of an ‘ever evolving agency' almost seems anathema to anyone who remembers U-Matics, and radio ads being recorded on quarter inch tape, but when you live, breathe and work digital for clients you quickly appreciate that change is the only North Star by which to plot a course. For one thing, the conversational nature of online consumers and the access that the Facebook generation has to shape a brand's fortunes mean that you simply have to change. The TV/radio/print matrix is still valid, but increasingly, it's not at the core of what a brand needs. Forrest says Cybercom is identifying changes in consumer behaviour and using insights to lead clients through a journey of incredible change for the comms industry, one that affirms digital strategies as the backbone of marketing. As the technologies continue to become ubiquitous across the traditional channels, and new digital channels and platforms emerge, the craft of delivering integrated communications becomes more complex.



Guinness Arthur's Day celebration will happen again this year, at the end of September. Cybercom is Diageo’s digital partner for the activation of fans through Guinness.com and Facebook – with over 150,000 fans, it is Ireland’s largest branded Facebook community.

For Cybercom staff, meeting that complexity has meant exactly what Forrest says: an agency in evolution. The strategic planning department pulls on the skill sets of traditional brand planning and digital planning, and all media specialties now operate under the umbrella of a single media innovation team. All the better, he says, to exploit paid, earned and owned digital media. It might not be the traditional way that media planning happens, but it's certainly a way that Ireland's largest ad agency understands. (And in case you don't who that is, it rhymes with Dougal, Ted.)


You've seen Cybercom's online work for Diageo, Vodafone, Aviva and a stack of familiar names, but amidst the talk of touch points and connection moments between brand and consumer there are other agency commitments that go largely unseen, particularly in the areas of education and sustainability.

Ireland has a fantastic opportunity to become a leader both in technology and graduate skills. Forrest believes Ireland has the technology to be the Singapore of the West, to give consumers new and better ways of engaging with the world around them. The government is doing a lot of often unsung work, particularly to support the development of a world leading high-speed laser network. It is now just a matter of switching it on.

In education meanwhile, a hands-on approach can only be a positive thing for companies working with digital technologies. It can be quite challenging to find qualified people and that's largely a result of the speed of evolution in the industry now.

Increasingly, Cybercom find themselves recruiting people for whom adequate job descriptions or titles are not in use. Hands up how many organisations currently have a poachable online community and PR manager who knows their paid from their owned media?

It makes sense, practically, to encourage and be actively involved in the education process, so Cybercom leaped at the chance to assist in the development of a joint DIT and IAPI initiative, the country's first postgraduate diploma in advertising and digital communication, particularly as it put such strong emphasis on having digital comms at its core. More is needed, but it is a start.

Naturally it might be useful when one is recruiting too. “It's a virtuous circle,' Forrest said. “Reskilling is absolutely vital to our national recovery and you can see it in the rise of educational programmes. Do the best work, and you'll attract the best talent and the best clients. But it still comes back to the idea of what we take with us and what we leave behind. Never forget your core marketing skills. They're still essential and the consumer is still everything.”

Embracing change is not just at the core of what Cybercom does for clients. The agency has taken to commercial sustainability in a big way. They partner with a consultancy that helps businesses to profit through sustainability, to introduce agency-led sustainable practices. Forrest said it is already important but it will be essential in the not too distant future.

I mentioned a recent opportunity I had to drive an all-electric car, and how pleasantly surprised I'd been by the experience. “That's it exactly,” Forrest said, “the kid inside excited by the sheer idea. It took me until this age to realise the importance of this stuff, but for the staff here, all these young guys and girls, the importance of all of this, it's second nature.” Back we go again to the recurring theme, the importance of opening minds and opening arms to embrace unstoppable change.

Bring it on.

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