POV: Interview with Kamran Asghar, Co-founder and President Crossmedia

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



Kamran Photo copyPlease tell us about Crossmedia and what differentiates it from other agencies.

There are 5 things that differentiate us from other agencies

1. We are 100 percent transparent. That means Crossmedia only makes money from advising our clients across all communications and helping them plan and place their media. We don’t take kickbacks or rebates from media or sell our own inventory or arbitrage.

2. We have no silos. We don’t have departments that fight over media dollars or have vested interest in pushing one channel over another. We like to say the agency is structured the way consumers consume media, not the way media is purchased. We also keep the execution of media with the account teams so that our plans are not “handed off” to another department and the integrity of the strategy remains intact.

3. Democratic data. We have an integrated analytics practice that looks at everything from brand health to consumer expression of the business to econometric modeling. Looking at these different cuts of data better informs the planning process rather then simply evaluating past performance. We believe that big data is not only for big companies, but rather should be available to all companies seeking to gain insights in a real time and who value the effectiveness of media over efficiency.

4. We are insanely collaborative. We believe content and delivery should be joined at the hip. We call it “creadia,” the idea that both the media and creative work seamlessly and fluidly to craft the best, most impactful programs. We have more than 20 different creative agency partners who LOVE working with us. We find that both flattering and rewarding.

5. We have a killer culture. We’re a flat and networked organization with little hierarchy. We have burgers and beers every Friday (#TGIBD), an in-house art gallery and are committed to making sure all our Crossmedians have the opportunity to follow professional and personal passions. We have a +90% retention rate, are growing and have perhaps the most ethnically diverse make-up in the business.

What made you decide to leave Ogilvy & Mather to form Crossmedia? What have you taken away from working at a large agency?

Two reasons. First, I left Ogilvy because I believed wholeheartedly in the idea of 360-degree marketing, and I didn’t believe in the idea that a media agency needed to be created simply to offer clients buying clout. Anyone can buy media cheaply, but in 2000, media was about to undergo the most fundamental shift our business had ever witnessed. So when the media department was ripped out of Ogilvy, to me it meant the end of 360, it was now 180 degrees. Martin Albrecht (with whom I co-founded the agency) and I wanted to create a place that focused on the thinking side of the business, not the bullying side. How do we connect brands with people, that’s what media is — the line that connects brands and people. I learned at Ogilvy that the only way to work in this business is interdisciplinary and cross channel with only one objective, solving the client’s problem. I wanted to create a place that kept that holistic approach to communications intact and shattered the idea that you were either a “creative” or a media guy or a suit. To us, media is creative. Second reason: Advertising is and should always be fun. And we wanted to create a place where people actually could have fun at work.

Why should more media agencies collaborate with creative agencies? What types of results can be achieved through this?

It’s simple. When you don’t collaborate, you are only seeing communications from one side, and you are biased towards the elements that make that side feel impactful. Everyone knows that a great media plan gets trashed if the messaging doesn’t work within the context of the consumer’s world. So without collaboration you will only ever be 50 percent successful, at best. We have seen higher conversation rates on digital and social campaigns that “learn” which creative work best in near real time. We also have cases, like with New Era Caps and Jägermeister where our integrated creative/media approach garnered higher brand health metrics including consideration and purchase intent than the “un-integrated” campaigns from years prior.

How have both social media and digital technology played a role in blurring the lines between creative and media strategies?

How much time do we have? For one, the new normal is social and digital at the core. Actually, it’s mobile at the core (which is social digital) with everything else stemming out of the consumer’s “always on” mentality. This means there are no lines anymore, there is only one line that connects brands to people and that line is media. To us, media encompasses paid, owned, earned and anything in between. Consumers think only in terms of what’s in front of them, and it’s forced us to make communications experiences enticing, rewarding, informative and shareable.

Please describe the creative process Crossmedia goes through when collaborating with creative agencies.

It’s immersive and somewhat organic. We like to make our creative partners as smart as possible before every putting pen to paper. We tend to do a bunch of legwork on the business and brand situation. Via RedBox Analytics: We look at daily brand health trends, consumer expression and conversation in the marketplace and any business performance data we can model. We’ll also paint a robust picture of the target, describe their journey or path to purchase and the connections opportunities or territories we feel we can all “play” in. This is shared in a digestable and nicely designed way to serve as inspiration for ideation. Then, as it always goes, we are back and forth, in each other’s faces for as long as it takes to nail the integration between media and message.

How have holding company mergers led to rise of independent media agencies?

A major search consultant once told me his job was easy because he only had to pick from about 15 media agencies whenever there was a review versus the hundreds of creative agency offerings. The holding companies opened the door for independents to serve as an alternative to the monolithic way of operating — one that is transparent, solution-neutral, agile, culture-driven and with a staff that is as dedicated and diverse as our clients. Clients of a certain size or with a certain business challenge can now have a partner at the table that really syncs up with their ethos, not someone who looks at them as a bag of bundled media dollars.

What are two to three of your favorite media campaigns that you’ve worked on?

It’s always the ones that worked. I love what we’ve done to change the way the sports ticketing business thinks, so taking the US Open from a live event on sale to a social media on sale was fun to see. We tripled their ROI and spent half the budget by taking the event to social media. We’ve twice pioneered technology integrations with Tickemaster so that was pretty cool.

I think we were the first to ever get an actual brand logo tattooed on someone while on TV. We partnered with Spike TV’s Ink Masters to get a 12-minute integration that featured, among other things, a tattoo challenge where contestants had to render a real mini Jägermeister logo as a tattoo. Viacom considers it their gold standard for integrations.

Getting our New Era videos to go immortal on Funny or Die was pretty cool, too. That was content that created by the Brooklyn Brothers and Funny or Die, it was the second series of New Era’s rivalry campaign. We went native with it before native was a term!

How has Crossmedia adapted in the past few years to reach the new multi-channel consumer?

We have a saying that we are “always under construction” so adaptation is inherently baked into our agency processes and culture. We have assigned specialists in key emerging channel areas like social or search, but we insist that account teams be structured cross channel. We abhor silos, so it’s everyone’s job to knowledge share campaigns, channels or best practices in real time. We do this through our own internal networking platforms and all agency meetings. Media today is very complex and because of our insistence to stay silo free, Crossmedia can be a very demanding place to work. But we think that’s the agency model of the future: horizontally trained craftspeople with a deep vertical knowledge that is shared in real time.

What trend in marketing/advertising do you find most exciting?

I find the real-time, agile, integration of big data into everyday organic creative thinking extremely exciting. This business is art and science, sometimes more art than science, but the closer we make sense of the science and get it to work, predictively, then the more freedom we will have to create great art.

One reason you love what you do: Constant change. Every brief, every client, every campaign is different. I love the constant and evolutionarily learning that occurs everyday in our business and the amazing people that come with it.

Favorite ad: Wow, does Schoolhouse Rock count? Probably not. I have to say, I’m a huge fan of everything Red Bull is doing these days. They spend very little on paid media. All their advertising is digital or social at the epicenter and everything has amplification potential, especially when you start your idea from above the atmosphere! They have really mastered the art of holistic paid, owned and earned media.

Connect with Kamran on Twitter @kamasghar or on LinkedIn.

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