Ryan Parkhurst, General Manager: Eric Mower Forum

Ryan Parkhurst, General Manager: Eric Mower Forum

DISCLAIMER: At the time of the speaker session, Ryan Parkhurst was the existing General Manager of AKQA.

“The best advertising isn’t advertising.”

AKQA is in AdAge’s December 2017 list of 50 companies “creatives would kill to work for.” AKQA’s mission: To invent the future with their clients. Parkhurst describes AKQA as an idea and invention shop made of 23 creative studios. They have no CCO, CTO, and a few other C-suite positions because each branch of their creative studios come up with great work.  He was proud to say that any branch of AKQA could possibly take the lead on something that will bring their clients ahead. This seems counterintuitive to the general philosophy of advertising agencies, as most agencies have one specific team on a given account. That seems like the obvious answer, right? A client would want to get to know their advertising team and be aware of the type of work those people can provide them. Not at AKQA. Any team in their global network can create for their clients if they have a great idea. So any employee of AKQA could reasonably have the opportunity to work with Nike, the agencies longest client relationship.

Parkhurst spoke about four main battles that advertisers face, taking a side for each and explaining why his choice was superior.

  1. Customers over campaigns. He made a great point about using existing digital touchpoints into a better experience for the consumers. Rather than focusing on winning awards for the campaign(s), he suggested that the campaigns can be used to make the consumer’s experience with a brand more seamless and engaging.
  2. Democracy over Exclusivity. A lot of Elton John’s music existed before music videos existed. AKQA made “The Cut” to reinvent his work, especially his most popular songs. They helped create a campaign that made music videos for Rocketman, Bennie and the Jets, and Tiny Dancer. Applicants submitted potential music videos, which were reviewed by Elton John and a panel of invited guests to choose the winners. They also worked with Nike on how to sell new jerseys to fans. The agency found that 99% of fans will never attend an NBA game. To engage with their audience and sell jerseys in a helpful way, they created Nike Connect with jerseys so fans could tap their phones to connected jerseys to give fans exclusive player content and a courtside seat to their favorite player’s game.
  3. Story Making over Story Telling. Nike also made a Nike+ runners app where users could see their “trophy videos” of their running throughout the year and celebrate how many miles, days, marathons, etc. that they ran. The videos also offered a goal for the next year to beat one of their toughest challenges, like cutting mile time or running on their least active days. Geo-tracking showed the locations and time of day that the users were running to further personalize their experiences.
  4. Hunters over Gatherers. People who are hungry don’t need a brief or client budget, so don’t let a challenge hold you back. An example of this is their creation of SnowFox, a story that comes to life by voice. It used Siri so kids could read along with the SnowFox story, and the story progressed as the child read through it. Then, they could send it to others with the child’s voice reading the SnowFox story.

Parkhurst mentioned in his intro that 88% of the Fortune 500 brands from 1955 are gone, reminding us that the biggest risk we can take as Master’s students is refusing to adapt. People need to stay in touch with the world as it progresses, and that includes corporations as well as graduate students. Instead of trying to fit yourself into a company you think you like, dive into the new topics and skills that interest you. That’s what keeps AKQA ahead of the creativity curve. That’s what we have the opportunity to do right now.




Joseph Laraiso
Advertising Master's Student, focused in Account Management. Background in finance and investing. Progressive Rock enthusiast. Expert in being very blunt and straightforward.

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