If you were to step back and look at Madison Avenue the way a trade journalist covering it might, you’d see it as part of the bigger story that seems to be unfolding in front of our eyes. It’s the story of an industrial revolution in which businesses — and the business models with which they operate — seemingly change on the fly due to the constant innovation of technology, data and how they affect the way people use media. While it might be impossible to see how that story will ultimately play out, the people managing those businesses have to have a strategy for transforming along with it, and as long as MediaPost has been tracking those strategies at a holding company level, Interpublic’s Mediabrands seems to do it better and more consistently than any other media services organization.
It has a vision for the future. It is actively managing not just by tracking it with the considerable econometric resources of its Magna Global unit, but it is also actively researching, testing and developing ways to leverage that vision through its IPG Lab. It then applies it at a corporate level for all of Interpublic’s clients and operating units, or through individual client-facing operations such as Initiative, UM and others.
Mediabrands has been doing that consistently, year-in and year-out, since we’ve been making these awards, and, because of that, they are a serious contender every year. They have the vision thing down cold.
The other two criteria we recognize — innovation and industry leadership — are sometimes harder to prove, and 2014 was a tougher year than normal to make this call, mainly because another big agency holding company unit — WPP’s GroupM — was also doing some massive market-moving innovation. In the end, we picked Mediabrands because, in our editorial opinion, they are moving in more of the right direction, especially when it comes to leveraging data, technology and programmatic media-buying markets.
Where GroupM sought to re-leverage its position in the programmatic media-buying marketplace by diving into the “dark pools” and pulling out of open RTB, Mediabrands leaned into it to make the world even more open, transparent, and as well lighted as a private, largely unregulated industry could possibly be. Mediabrands did it simply by telling the truth, as a close as it could approximate it, especially the ongoing tracking of the programmatic marketplace by its Magna Global unit.
But if you step back and look at the company’s entire story arc, that actually makes a lot of sense. Mediabrands’ Magna unit began life as a discipline within sister Interpublic agency McCann-Erickson, whose motto was and continues to be “Truth Well Told.” The agency believed so much in that motto that founder Alfred McCann’s widow endowed Harvard University to conduct a seminal study defining what advertising actually is and how it impacts the macro economy, and then created an econometric role within the agency to track it. And for much of the next half century, Interpublic was the main source for the economy knowledge of the ad industry.
While plenty of other economic forecasters have joined the fray, what sets Mediabrands apart is its DNA for the truth, and possibly more than any other agency holding company, it has embraced open market trading as way of getting to that — for its clients, for its own operating units, and even for the consumers they are trying to reach and influence.
So in a year when GroupM was seeking to leverage as much of its considerable market heft to make things even more opaque, “dark,” and non-transparent, Mediabrands sought to shed even more light on the subject. Ultimately this is because CEO Matt Seiler believes that, in the end, the truth will win. He’s built his entire organization around it — even its “pay for performance” compensation models.
On the innovations front, Mediabrands continued to develop and invest in new business models that would unlock even more transparency, especially in the programmatic marketplace, usually by leveraging the technology and wherewithal of its supply chain partners.
One of the best examples of that during the past year was how it worked with WideOrbit, a technology company that has become the TV industry’s main source for trafficking TV commercials between agencies and stations and networks.
While programmatic TV buying is still in its seminal stages relative to online and mobile, the Mediabrands team recognized that WideOrbit is the closest thing the TV industry has to an ad server, which is a necessary component of online programmatic audience exchanges.
Working with WideOrbit, the Mediabrands team came up with a way leverage WideOrbit’s technology to plan, buy, post and yes, even “re-target” TV viewers with the kind of audience-targeting precision that previously was only feasible in online and mobile buys. Equally significantly, it figured out how to do it in the local TV marketplace, which is the least technologically developed and most undervalued part of the TV advertising marketplace.
It’s an interim step, Magna Executive Vice President-Buying Analytics Janice Finkel-Greene acknowledged earlier this year when the initiative was unveiled, but it is a great example of how Mediabrands is leveraging or developing technology available today to get close to its end goal of open and transparent market-based trading.
“We’re moving to audience impressions-based buying instead of ratings. There will be less emphasis on ratings and dayparts and more on the audience we are reaching,” Finkel-Greene explained.