Commentary

The Cost Of A Complicated Industry

The digital media arena -- the environment in which we sell, plan, buy, measure, optimize and account for media -- is bloody complicated right now. Yes, it's dynamic. New entities are in play. New currencies are flowing. Data drives. The economics are in flux. Talent is retooling itself (or being retooled). Companies are transforming themselves to participate in all the hoopla of an increasingly automated media landscape -- a la bidded media. But, never before in our industry has the "buy/sell" meant so much and had to carry so much water.

The Agency Identity Crisis

I've often said I find talk of changing agency models a bit disingenuous. This is because we cannot pretend that there has been any prevailing agency model -- at least not any in recent memory. We are not simply transforming from one thing to another. It's far more complicated than that. Public and private firms; holding companies possessing a vast array of entity types; independents and boutiques; niche studios; old school and new school: all still exist and remain in the throes of figuring themselves out every day.

But right now, one thing is very true when it comes to the model. This: If you plan and buy media, you've got to figure out how to suit-up for the new machine. If the estimations are even nearly true on how much of our industry's inventory soon will be designated to bidded media; if platforms continue to emerge to facilitate the buying of audience in very particular ways, using very specific utilities -- you've got to know how to staff and operate for this increasingly mechanical industry mode. Do you need to establish or retain a trading desk? Is your agency comfortable enough with data and analysis? Do your strategists, creative and account team collaborators get the new reality? Is your org chart -- and the roles within it -- obsolete? How in the world do you slow down enough, but still keep your stride, as you figure this out and stay competitive while servicing your clients -- as they too embrace the new reality and raise the bar on ROI? It's the stuff of a full-on identity crisis, which definitely takes its toll.

The Organization of Media Businesses

Agencies are not alone in this head-scratching. Even some of the most progressive media companies -- launching, redefining and striving to capitalize on the new media economy -- still need to figure some things out. Namely, how to organize, hire, reskill, compensate their sellers, and efficiently, cost-effectively operationalize every aspect of what they do to play their part in all of this. Otherwise, they face giving up their fair share of the pie.

Speaking of the Pie

Then there's accounting. In an environment where every impression is being served, managed, optimized, analyzed and verified within an inch of its life, things are still very, very murky. Even as the IAB defines standards for accounting, multiple parties may be present or inserting themselves into the accounting relationship (and, also, by the way, into the revenue and compensation equation). We'd do well to remind ourselves that this has not been entirely neatened up, just yet -- and that the misattributions of monies experienced during this time may be ultimately incalculable.

Professional Development Today

This is no longer just about career path. Yes, talent requirements are morphing. Still, as you play your own education, hopes, dreams, aspirations, talents and skills into a radically transforming professional marketplace, it's not all that clear what fits and what doesn't. Client, partner and strategic services are coming to mean something different as they swell to hold new capabilities. Creative is no longer isolated. Math plays a bigger part, everywhere you look, for everyone involved. Data rules. Selling within today's media companies bears an absolutely constant technology-learning curve. As an agency principal or a part of the management team, your focus on professional development is not optional, it's an ongoing, vital concern.

Not that this entire thing is a group activity -- but we are all in the changing media marketplace arena together. So, it does feel like a "collective" quandary -- in many ways, a good and healthy set of problems to have. If you talk openly and honestly with anyone playing hard in the market, many will tell you that achieving the right method to succeed has never felt more slippery a target. And, as companies move aggressively to crack the code and get it right, what might be the true cost?

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