Commentary

Media Agencies' $25B Bounty For Change

$25 billion worth of media reviews has been announced  in the last few months. So is this a statistical anomaly, or a sign that after 20 years of endless talk about change, clients are finally making demands that agencies do so?

I think it’s a welcome sign that clients are demanding more. Internet anthropologist Clay Shirky famously observed that “Most institutions will preserve problems to which they are the solution.” I think for years, while media agencies have talked endlessly of change, they have done as little changing as possible. The status quo & dragging of feet served them too well.

Buying media is way too profitable to give up, while solving client problems is way harder.
I believe we’ve never faced a greater disconnect between the scale and complexity of the problems that our clients face and advertising agencies’ ambition, thirst and willingness to change.

Cannes will soon celebrate our industry’s love of one-off vending machines, drone deliveries, hashtags, 3D printed junkets, and experiential gimmicks. We will showcase agencies having fun with the toys, while our clients worry about so much — from totally transformed consumer behavior to a bewildering array of new channels to, perhaps, their whole business being disintermediated or eaten by a startup.

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Here are some of the themes and issues I hear most commonly:

A move to digital and mobile. Pretty much every client is aware that while we may watch more TV than ever and consume more news, we’re doing it on more-connected, more-mobile devices. This gives rise to massive challenges. Common questions include, should I move my money totally online? How do I make the most of mobile? How can I build my brand online? All questions many media agencies and strategists just don’t have good answers to. The rise of programmatic also raises interesting questions about structure: How do we place buying teams at the heart of, not separate from, media planning teams?

The pace of change. The trends we used to see on the far horizon — a shift to mobile viewing, the decline of TV, emerging platforms — are happening faster than we ever predicted. It’s a time when SnapChat can double user numbers in the same time that apps like Ello can go from Facebook killer to distant memory.  Clients want to know what’s next, what is dead, what is changing, what isn’t, and how can they try and learn?  Agencies need to keep their finger on the pulse and be extra-agile and ready to change.

Measurement. We’re all aware of Big Data, but we’re not quite sure how it’s different from what we used to simply call “data.” Clients more than ever need to find actionable insights from data — and to do this, they need  better data analysis, but above all else, they need to know what to measure and what metrics actually matter. Clients need help beyond what most agencies are designed to provide.

Fragmentation and attention. Attention spans are dwindling, second- and third-screening is rife, media consumption becomes glances while multitasking. Is the solution more interruption or more engagement? Can hashtags ever take off? Is native the solution? What can content marketing really do for me?  Faced with fragmentation and dwindling attention, we know that content can be a solution. We need media agencies that are more adept at content and aligned to video distribution, not just TV buying.

What’s next? Clients need media agencies to move their focal point further into the future, to go from being agile to anticipatory, to blend media, creative and technology together — to move from the act of buying media to solving business problems. They need people who can understand wearables, put mobile coupons in place, understand a whole new world of platforms — and how addressable TV will change things.

Change. The change to digital media has caused structure issues in the entire world of advertising. We’re arranged around channels in a world where the Internet makes them irrelevant. We’re spending more and more time in places demonstrably harder to connect.

Now I’d like to think that the agency where I work has made the changes, and is agile, future-thinking, and entrepreneurial, working as a village to bring media and creative together, placing digital and programmatic at the head and bringing mobile, technology and ideas together.

So the question becomes, what has your agency done to solve the problems of today and tomorrow?

3 comments about "Media Agencies' $25B Bounty For Change".
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  1. Steve Baldwin from Didit, June 5, 2015 at 5:42 p.m.

    Here, here! This is one of the best summations I've read of the current misalignments in the ad world.

  2. Neil Ascher from The Midas Exchange, June 8, 2015 at 9:44 a.m.

    These are all valid issues, however clients have to be willing to pay for the resources they demand.  In the current fee-squeezing environment, agencies simply can't make significant investments in data, technology and most importantly, talent.  The work simply doesn't do itself and clients have to recognize that they can't have their cake and eat it too.

  3. Chris Williams from self-employed, June 12, 2015 at 6:57 p.m.

    In the old days we sometimes separated media planning and buying. It is time for a different structure for advertisers. They need an ad tech agency with direct line of responsibility to the advertiser but separate from the media agency. Some advertisers have brought the ad tech task in-house but like in the past when some brought media planning and buying in house they didn't like the results and backtracked. So - ad tech agency, paid on a fee basis and tech stack costs absolutely transparent, focused on delivering best metrics and attribution models. Also no ad tech vendors attached to media suppliers.
    All the other agencies, ie creative, media, PR, search what have you are focused on strategy and execution but look to the numbers out of the ad tech agency as their scorecard. It's the real-time audit of results with a separation between players and referees.

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