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Stef Sokolowski outlines her role and experience to date, exploring potential industry changes, offshoring and where, she believes, the industry is headed
The Need For A Partner Network
“Building teams in-house will be challenging to keep up with latest trends and technology – having a network of expert partners, at low-cost will be essential”
With over 15 years of expertise in guiding the delivery of omni-channel campaigns and product development initiatives as well as optimizing production operations and workflow processes, Stef Sokolowski is now tasked with leading and growing We Are Amnet’s service offering and promoting the Smartshoring model in the Americas.
With Marketing Procurement iQ, she discusses her career journey to date, as well as exploring her vision for We Are Amnet going forward, the potential industry changes that lie ahead and the company’s role in this. From MarTech and We Are Amnet’s Smartshoring model, to the rise of in-house agencies and automation, Sokolowski’s Q&A delves into the industry’s issues and advancements.
Can you give a summary of your career so far?
Prior to joining We Are Amnet, I worked at Craft NY leading large scale advertising programs for Microsoft, Mastercard, L’Oréal Paris and MGM. During my time at Craft, I optimized the offshoring process via bespoke client workflows and technology solutions.
Before my time at Craft, I worked for Spotify, Vayner Media and Rapp Collins.
During my time at Spotify, I was the Senior Product Owner for the customer service social and web experiences, leading an Agile development build team across multiple countries.
I joined RAPP to develop their social and digital CRM platforms and developed Brita’s first-ever mobile campaign and while at Vayner Media, I developed the content delivery process across 25+ brands and in multiple locations.
Previous professional assignments include building a 100-person Detroit-based content management team to service the General Motors account.
Tell me about your current role and company?
We Are Amnet is an independent global creative production studio and a leader in Smartshoring®; a hybrid model of offshore hubs and regional client service teams. They deliver production certainty for in-house teams, agencies and brands, giving them access to flexible and scalable resources.
I joined to launch We Are Amnet in the US market, building on the success of the EMEA and India offices.
What is your vision for We Are Amnet – The Americas?
Make work easier for our customers. We have established principles that we live by and work with brands and partners who share these values. We are customer obsessed and strive to help them hit their goals – whether it is reducing their costs, quickly developing high volumes of content, filling the gap in headcount or helping out with a new technology they need to scale.
How have you seen the marketing industry change over the last 10 years? (Marketing models, MarTech etc.)?
Marketing traditionally led with the TVC spot and then followed up their print and digital campaigns as mirror images, ala “matching luggage” mindset. As digital moved into an always on, multi-channel arena – brands adopted the “digital first” then the “mobile first” ways of working.
Brands needed many specialty agency partners to reach their audience on every channel they could. This meant a lot of management with sliced budgets. As a result, in-house agencies emerged to consolidate and provide brand protection. The rise of decoupling and the offshoring model began to mature, and thus the evolution of Smartshoring® came into play by offering hybrid onshore/offshore teams based on a low-cost economy with a high touch client service.
Where do you think the industry is headed? And what challenges do you foresee for brands and agencies?
In-house talent will continue to be a challenge as the seasonality of content and the platforms to build on, will always be evolving. Years ago, there were 2-3 channels you built content for (TVC, print, OOH), nowadays, you need your plans to include the Metaverse, Gaming and AR. These channels are evolving fast, so the content needs to evolve faster. Audiences are plastered with tons of adverts and messages each day; you need to be able to stand out. Building teams in-house will be challenging to keep up with latest trends and technology – having a network of expert partners, at low-cost will be essential.
You have talked about taking lower tier work off agencies ‘to do list’. Can you expand on what you mean and how the process works?
We keep our client’s creative team loyal and engaged to them because we do those simple, repeatable tasks that drive most creatives batty. By the time a big campaign idea moves into post-production, no creative person wants to work on versioning out hundreds of pixel perfect assets for distribution. We Are Amnet employ production designers who have the drive and attention to execute this volume of work. Once we receive a brief, media plan and toolkit – we’re off to the races and work independently to get these out. We play in our client’s workflow tools, or bring them into our workflow tool, Joule.
IHAs continue to increase in numbers and in the type of work they handle, what role is We Are Amnet playing in working with IHAs?
We help IHAs scale and cast the right talent for every job. IHA’s often struggle with maintaining and replacing headcount in a timely manner, so they come to us to build teams offshore as an extension of their in-house teams. The communication is constant and seamless, and in today’s age of remote working, this is now the norm.
Content at scale requires a level of automation – does this compromise creativity.
Sometimes. An automation play needs to be planned thoughtfully with the consumer in mind. A robust campaign that appears highly personalized will speak to a consumer more than a long, creative flashy campaign. Show me what I need when I need it and I’m a customer for life. Make life simple, know me.
We Are Amnet coined the phrase “Smartshoring”. How does this differ from other forms of offshoring?
We Are Amnet offers a hybrid model of onshore client service and offshore execution anchored in low-cost economy with high touch client service. Our offshore execution hubs are trained in Six Sigma and follow a robust quality program across the studio and at the project level.
Are there any particular size agencies that We Are Ament services are particularly well suited to serve?
We work with clients of all sizes! By working with We Are Amnet, our clients see an immediate 40% reduction in cost compared to keeping onshore. Our clients who receive the largest savings – up to 70%, are ones who build out FTE (full time equivalent) teams of 10+ individuals.
There is a well-documented talent crisis in marketing and creative services. Is offshoring one possible solution for brands and agencies, and why?
Definitely! We Are Amnet has boomed over the last year because of The Great Resignation. Our largest hub in Chennai, India is well suited to the exact talent for our client needs. We Are Amnet works closely with the local universities to onboard graduates onto the team as well as mentoring students as they work towards their degrees. Since there is such a large talent pool, we are able to rapidly scale teams and adapt to peaks and troughs appropriately.
What for you are the most interesting points to come out of the 2022 Benchmark Report for Offshore Creative Production from We Are Amnet?
It’s the only report of its kind – that informs on the creative production offshore industry.
For me what stands out is the maturity of the industry with 48% of companies having been offshoring for 5 years or more, as well as 73% of respondents currently offshoring. This shows that offshoring has become a long-term strategic solution for brands and agencies who need to scale, save on costs and source additional talent.
The reasoning for offshoring used to be focused on cost, but the report shows this thinking has also matured with 57% of respondents listing level of expertise and capability as their top factor when choosing an offshoring partner and 52% of respondents listing access to flexible resource; to deal with peaks and troughs coming in second. Cost is also of course a factor, coming in third, but offshoring is now embedded into the ecosystem.
When looking at brands, if marketing procurement are looking for more cost-efficient production partners how can they convince marketers of the quality of work from offshore production services and not be accused of just going for the cheapest option and compromising quality.
We Are Amnet’s production team is trained in Six Sigma and follows a robust Studio-level and project-level quality management policy. There is a team dedicated to managing quality whether it’s through random audits, predictive risk assessment or deep dives with clients on performance. One of our principles, Build on Failures, is how we continue to optimize every aspect of the business.
You recently attended the ANA IHA in California and Henry Stewart Creative Ops conference in New York. What were the standout things you took away from those conferences?
We are seeing more brands create in-house agencies, but we hear the same struggles over and over – unable to find the right talent, budgets are being slashed, and timelines are shrinking. We Are Amnet is the partner to solve each of these challenges – we have a large pool of the right talent, at the right price and can quickly execute content at scale, flawlessly.