Vasily Kostin: “You have to focus on one thing and do it better than anyone else.”
This is an interview with Vasily Kostin, owner and CEO of Accord Agency, about the digital advertising market, the way agencies compete with each other, and important industry changes over the last few years.
Boson Group consists of several agencies, including the flagship agency Accord, which annually occupies a leading position in the ratings of the best Russian advertising agencies operating in digital marketing field.
What is a modern driver of digital advertising and what main directions and trends could you highlight?
Digital marketing, which used to be a single direction a couple of years ago, is now divided into many separate full-fledged branches, every one of which requires deep understanding and profound knowledge. Here is a simple example: a web studio that is good at developing corporate or promotional websites will definitely fail in competition with those who specialize in the development of online stores. Mobile development, programmatic, SMM/ORM (reputation management), blog advertising — each one of these areas requires a separate professional team within a full-service agency.
How is your work organized?
Each employee can acquire deep knowledge in one or two areas at most. The time when a project manager could implement an entire digital project on their own has passed long time ago. We quickly realized that an agency must have a separate professional team for each service and a strong customer service that would manage this complex mechanism to be a leader in the industry. Apart from the full-service digital agency, Accord, we have also created separate agencies specializing in e-commerce (Bishop Agency) and mobile development (Appdate Agency).
What services are the most popular?
Since we have been a full-service agency from the very beginning, we strive to meet all the needs of our clients in terms of digital marketing and creativity, which means that we use a so-called “turnkey” approach. We develop a strategy, come up with creative content, develop and fully implement the websites, CRM, mobile applications, promote the product or the service in the media. The areas in advertising that are developing most rapidly are blog advertising and reputation management.
What is the reason for that?
It is connected with changes in consumer culture and high competition in the market. People trust direct advertising less and less and, moreover, the market is full of many similar products and intrusive advertising. Consumers have become more discerning and attentive. At the same time they are ready to listen to opinion leaders and follow the trends that successful and famous people promote. Social networks let us spread such trends very quickly, bloggers and celebrities are those who have become an important sales tool, it is enough to involve 5–7 TOP bloggers and 20–30 million people will already consider the brand to be “fashionable”.
As for the reputation management, it has become an indispensable part of the purchasing process. Before making a decision at all stages, consumers look through reviews on the Internet, compare their feelings and plans with what is written about the product on the web. It works literally for all industries, and consumers are especially meticulous and careful when they choose products for children, pharmaceuticals, household appliances, movies, and everything related to entertainment. Remember how important it is to read reviews on the Internet before booking a hotel. A brand that invests 100 million rubles in a media campaign cannot ignore the reputation management and refuse to invest 3–4 million rubles in it. If it does, it puts sales conversion at risk.
Because of their mentality, Russian consumers are ready to write about the product (spend their time on a review) only if they were not satisfied with it. This is the reason why any brand should include this aspect in its marketing strategy.
Do you only have advertising projects in your portfolio? Or do you also invest in projects from other industries?
The ability to find customers cheaper than competitors is a valuable advantage in any industry. In this sense, working in advertising provides us with deep knowledge and experience that are applied in other areas as well. Experience in conducting advertising campaigns, collecting expert opinions about the specifics of the industry, competitors, and sales mechanisms — all of this makes it possible to lead a great variety of completely different projects successfully and at lowest possible risk. A traditional business, even if it has the best marketing department, cannot compete with an agency in terms of the cost of attracting a client, that is why many owners of digital agencies launch their own non-advertising startups. We also have such companies in our group, and a separate division Catapult Ventures is responsible for them.
By the way, tell us about managing different companies relying on your experience in advertising business. What do you spend the most time on as a manager and how do you manage to stay focused?
Most of the work involves strategic issues, finalization, and making key decisions concerning top management. It may take 60 percent of the time. The rest of time is spent on meetings. These meetings include internal meetings with managers, meetings devoted to current issues, final interviews of potential top managers, meetings devoted to finalization of financial results, etc. And in some cases there are, of course, meetings with clients and partners, meetings devoted to the development of new business relationships and conclusion of contracts.
It is a well-known fact that it is necessary to delegate as many tasks as you can to the professionals you trust. We try to develop top management inside the company — people who are involved into all processes and are used to take high responsibility in stressful situations. Sometimes we, of course, hire external employees for top positions as well.
What character traits should your employee have?
We appreciate the potential of the candidates, their desire to develop in digital marketing, the knowledge and skills they possess at the moment. The candidates with the sparkling eyes who say that digital is the future often come to us, but when it comes to specific questions, it turns out that the potential candidate doesn’t know the answers to the most typical questions and hasn’t even tried to find the answers to them. The market is developing so fast that only brave, interested, and determined people can survive and become valuable professionals. The recommendation from the previous place of work is definitely very important, because it answers the question why the candidate decided to change their job. This can definitely help to make a decision whether we should hire them.
How do you say goodbye to your employees?
We appreciate all our employees and try to create the most comfortable environment within the company and ensure there is an opportunity for professional growth. However, sometimes we realize that we can’t work effectively with some employees and it is fine. We try to say goodbye peacefully, if it is a mutual, let’s say, friendly decision. In this case, we definitely give positive feedback if other employers ask for it. Our position of principle is to fire employees in case of unethical behavior. For example, if the employee was caught in kickback scheme, passed internal information of the company to the competitors, or was caught stealing. In this case, we act harshly and also add information about the incident into a separate list, and this document is also available to other agencies in the industry.
So, are we actually talking about blacklisting employees?
It is rather the information for the employers that can help them get an idea about their potential employee and make a final hiring decision. Such a tool definitely makes people more disciplined and they realize that they take full responsibility for their actions.
What would you say to those who are just about to start a digital agency?
It would be an effective strategic decision to choose one niche, one type of services in the area of advertising. There is no use creating a full-service agency if we take current market situation into account. Therefore, I would focus on one of the entire range of services that are rapidly developing in the digital environment. And… I would do it better than anyone else.