POV: Interview with Richard Lent, Chief Innovation Officer at TEN

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



POV: Interview with Richard Lent, Chief Innovation Officer at TENAgencyNet was recently rebranded as TEN. Why was the decision to rebrand the agency made?

Believe it or not, AgencyNet was a pretty cool name back in 1994 when I founded the compny...not so much anymore. Kidding aside, today our service offering is far broader than the “Net,” and our structure doesn't always follow a traditional agency model. We wanted to pay homage to our history while pointing a new path forward. So we flipped the “N” and the “T,” left the “E” and rebranded as TEN.

Tell us about TEN’s new model. How this will help the agency to continue to evolve in the industry?

We subscribe to a simple formula for success: brand building + digital innovation. Today’s most successful brands understand that their image is defined by their actions. Yet most agencies still ideate within the old models, making it more difficult to achieve these objectives. We’ve reinvented the creative team from the top down — starting with our senior-most partners. Our creative teams are comprised of two disciplines: brand and innovation. We think these are two most essential ingredients for giving brands a more meaningful place in people’s lives.

As the chief innovation office of TEN, what is your role? What should an innovation officer’s goals be?

It's my charge to identify interesting ways of doing things. This applies to our clients' businesses, the strategy and work we produce and even our business model itself. Digital has flipped entire industries upside down (i.e. music, shopping, broadcast), and at the end of the day, it's my job to help our clients capitalize on that opportunity.

What is the biggest challenge facing the digital marketing industry currently? How is the industry changing in order to provide more relevant, effective and engaging experiences for brands and consumers?

Consumers are fully in control. They have access to incredible amounts of information, a global supply chain and one another. As such, it's more important than ever to provide a real value exchange between a brand and consumer. It's no longer enough for brands to just say what they do — they now need to create experiences, products and platforms that are on-brand while being relevant, engaging and useful.

What skills and experiences should digital agencies be looking for in new hires for the coming year?

It's a multi-screen, multi-platform world. Mobile, connected TV and the access to big data all present huge opportunities for brands. Agencies that have core expertise in these areas will help clients drive real business results as these technologies mature.

Do you feel that traditional marketing is still relevant? Why or why not?

Of course. In a complex landscape, it's doubtful that a single tool can accomplish all of a brand's marketing objectives. A healthy combination of earned, owned and paid media coupled with a strong and consistent brand point of view is essential to cut through all of the noise.

Does there need to be a digital aspect of every traditional campaign?

I'm not sure there is any such thing as traditional campaigns any longer. Each marketing challenge requires a unique solution. I would never prescribe a tactic before understanding business objectives and barriers. That said, the majority of consumers today live digitally, and brands need to connect with them along their consideration, decision and purchasing journey.

Do you think that native advertising is the solution to the digital advertising problem? What should brands be considering when looking to gain the attention of online viewers?

We believe in authenticity of communication and providing a true value exchange. Native advertising (when executed correctly) is authentic to the platform in which it's viewed and theoretically provides some value to the consumer. Like most marketing buzzwords, I expect to see any form of advertorial or branded content being labeled as native advertising. It's heading in the right direction, but as stated earlier, I believe it's more essential for companies to create on-brand experiences, products and platforms that are relevant and valuable to their consumers.

Many brands and agencies still seem to be struggling with social media. Why is this? What should brands keep in mind when creating a strategy for a platform?

It requires authenticity and near real-time communication. That's difficult for a brand. The brands succeeding here understand those parameters and empower people within their organization or partner agencies to communicate accordingly while maintaining their distinct brand voice and POV. It's a risky but necessary proposition.

What trends in advertising do you find most interesting/exciting?

I'm intrigued by the shift to a stronger owned and earned ecosystem. Brands can connect at a more authentic level, deepening relationships with their consumers and creating advocates whose voices now carry more weight than ever.

One reason you love what you do: Cliché...but it's the people: our team, clients, partners and even our competitors. The industry seems to attract smart, creative and all-around good folks.

Mentor: I've been incredibly blessed to have a number of wonderful mentors in my life, but I'm staying away from business and going with my wife. She's strong, caring, eternally optimistic, and loves me an awful lot — and that says a ton.

Must-read book: I've read so many amazing books, but I'm going with Richard Price's “Lush Life.” It's a gritty, intelligent exposé on Manhattan as a diverse cultural and socioeconomic melting pot, pre-gentrification. I'm a NYC kid, so it hits home.

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