How indie agency Within won over Foot Locker as its AOR for North America

Performance branding company Within in March was named media agency of record for North America for Foot Locker — beating out the retailer’s incumbent digital media agency at holding company Dentsu.

The 10-year-old independent agency will handle all digital media buying and planning, reporting and optimization for the core Foot Locker brand as well as Champs Sports and Kids Foot Locker.

CEO Joe Yakuel said its success with current clients including The North Face and Rite Aid and previous work running digital media for Nike helped win over the new business despite the agency’s smaller size and resources compared to a holding company. Marketing at larger agencies is often focused on short-term revenue and siloed programs, Yakuel said.

“The challenge without an integrated model is that all marketing is done in silos,” he told Digiday. “Our people are not incentivized by how much money our client spends, either as a whole or in any individual place.”

Within has also worked on digital media and creative for brands including Casper, Shake Shack and Hugo Boss. Last year, Foot Locker started a “Lace Up” strategic plan to grow its portfolio of brands under Foot Locker, aimed at expanding sneaker culture, boosting its portfolio, investing in customer relationships across its brands and focusing on the omni-channel experience.

Yakuel said Within focused on bringing people with experience in omnichannel marketing to the client as well as maximizing long-term profit for the brand. Along with the company’s focus on performance branding using an integrated model, as opposed to specialists tied to channels or subject matter, the team is able to move faster and align marketing back to business objectives and “deeply rooted things … like measurement and lifetime value analysis,” Yakuel added.

Like many agencies, Within is also investing in proprietary technology and tools, from AI to measurement capabilities. Yakuel mentioned leveraging these services for tasks from bidding optimization and marketing mix modeling to anomaly detection and budget allocation.

AI experiments, in particular, are driving competition among agencies as each tries to differentiate its expertise and offerings. Yet there is a delicate balance between having the resources to implement AI and using the technology effectively — and independents can still deliver an edge here despite having fewer resources than larger competitors.

“[We can] move more nimbly, so [being larger] is not better in embracing AI,” Yakuel said.

Jeff Rosenblum, co-founder of digital agency Questus, agreed that independents can have an advantage over holding companies when tackling AI and measurement technologies — like not having to face the same pressures of public companies.

“It’s fundamentally harder for [holding companies] to reinvest in new technologies without reducing expenditures in other critical areas of the business,” Rosenblum said. “Independent agencies, on the other hand, can invest aggressively when the marketing ecosystem changes. It’s always easier to turn a smaller boat,” Rosenblum added.

Mark Sturino, vp of data and analytics at Good Apple, explained that it isn’t so much the type or size of an agency when it comes to competition — but more about agencies with flexible processes and employee hierarchies that will come out ahead with emerging technologies.

Using AI to increase productivity, for example, can only be leveraged at agencies where they can “reconfigure workflows around an AI task… which could mean shifting around the responsibilities by current employees and agreeing to new internal workflows,” Sturino explained.

“Traditionally, independent agencies have excelled in just this, but there are plenty of larger agencies that have shown the ability to adapt as well.”

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