POV: An Interview with Michael Treff, Managing Partner at Code and Theory

AdForum sits down with Code and Theory’s Michael Treff to discuss the agency's achievements and some of their exciting new work.

by Sarah Cullen , Adforum

By Sarah Cullen

AdForum: Code and Theory’s capabilities have grown vastly over the past six years and many services are now available in-house.  What changes have you seen in the overall culture at Code and how does that translate into the work?


Michael: In the last six years at Code and Theory we’ve seen unbelievable changes across the businesses of our clients in nearly every vertical. Couple that with the massive technological changes both on owned platforms and with the proliferation of touch points, which has made us have to find ways to better partner with our clients to help them achieve success.


In order to continue to deliver value, we’ve expanded our capabilities accordingly. We added an industrial design practice in 2012 so that we could establish deeper connections between physical and digital touchpoints, and we’ve added packaging so that we can better communicate brand and function at both direct mail/e-commerce and retail touchpoints. Additionally, we’ve significantly expanded our data team to work in a more end-to-end capacity, moving from audience development and insight identification to on-platform personalization and continuous improvement programs focussing on optimization.We’ve also added business strategy experts to help our clients through business model innovation and long term roadmapping.


Culturally, we certainly have a lot more employees with diverse and varied skillsets who really enjoy collaborating with each other to solve complicated problems. With all of these new areas of thought to work across, we’ve also been able to give our people more opportunities within the company to pivot their areas of focus from project to project.


AdForum: Media and publishing have always been at the center of the work created by Code and Theory.  How have you seen the role that data and analytics plays in the agency’s work process transform in recent years?


Michael: The publishing industry has been in a state of disruption for essentially the last two decades, and while the conversations publishers are having no longer focus on if there is a need for a digital business, there are still huge challenges to be solved. Big questions remain around the value of audiences on and off platforms, content distribution and third party partnerships, monetization strategies, storytelling and format innovation, and around how to provide value for advertisers.


Our approach has been to marry the insights and opportunities data can provide with the experience and creative solutions that drive consumption and engagement, i.e. real value for a publisher. We rely heavily on our data practice to inform our strategies for things like off-platform audience development, deeper and more interesting advertiser integrations, and optimizing media spends so that advertising messages reach the right people on our client’s platforms. We also use data for deep analysis on internal work-flow metrics such as speed to publish and efficacy of related content recirculation.


In regards to process, data is a central piece of our strategic process but it’s not the only. We view data as a means to inform and help us make better creative decisions.


AdForum: One Night is an exciting app Code and Theory created for The Standard Hotel. With many similar apps in its category; how important was it to create a unique user experience and how was it executed?


Michael: The One Night app was built with the idea that booking a great hotel can often be a spontaneous act rather than something planned ahead. We knew that the booking-app space was crowded and wanted to build a unique experience fitting for The Standard Hotel. One Night reacts to three different types of contextual data: time, user states, and location. The app uses content as a tool to inspire, convert, and reward users. By providing relevant, inspiring content each step of the way, users are also able to get an easy understanding of fast-paced, last-minute bookings.


Along with spontaneity, we also needed to build for simplicity and efficiency, we focused on speed as a basic requirement to quickly move users through the booking process. It was also a necessity to adapt to each user’s individual needs, creating different speeds for those who are less accustomed to booking last-minute hotels, and those who are looking to explore rather than buy right away.

AdForum: Congratulations on your partnership with Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. What were the main challenges in creating a digital space for a rehab facility?


Michael: Thank you, we were really excited to work on this project. SRA’s digital ecosystem was highly fragmented, they had a diverse series of sites, each of which had different audiences, stakeholders, needs, levels of HIPAA compliance, and political/operational intricacies. The complexity of these sites involved over 10,000 pages, 15 different types of content, and 30 categories, each with taxonomies of over 500 attributions spanning more than 10 websites.

We were challenged to reimagine these complexities under one platform and breathe life into the new Shirley Ryan AbilityLab brand, while ensuring that our design integrated with the physical hospital and was flexible to execute ongoing content strategies for the site in the future.


Perhaps an even greater challenge was the diversity of the audiences this unified platform needed to address. From patients to government officials, each had a different level of literacy and understanding of the subject matter and content. We needed to address the challenge of making sure each segment felt spoken to and spoken for, while maintaining the integrity of their needs. Most importantly, the site needed to be relevant to patients and their families at all stages of their journeys. It needed to grow with the patient’s own understanding and needs during their recovery.


AdForum: With so many exciting changes having occurred in recent years; what can we expect next for Code and Theory?


Michael: We’ll continue expand our capabilities and service offerings to meet the needs of our clients and their changing businesses. We’ll keep focus on bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds, whether that be through products, services, communications or businesses. We're going to continue to innovate within the media and publishing space, helping to reinvent some very large companies, and continue to launch new ones to develop the audiences of tomorrow.


You’ll also see us expanding our current client mandates to work across the entirety of their businesses. From helping to establish long-term business goals to re-defining their audiences and optimizing their entire ecosystems over time.


Lastly, you can expect us to continue to look for, hire, and nurture great talent who bring new capabilities to the Code and Theory family.