It’s hard to keep up with all of the major brands reviewing their media agency assignments. The reasons are varied, but it can’t be a coincidence that the worlds of traditional and programmatic media planning and buying are colliding at the same time as all the reviews. I think there are three main questions to explore to help understand what’s going on.
This seems like the summer of media client discontent, but what could be prompting this? I think the answer is data. Marketing analytics is driving all kinds of anxiety in the media world. I think clients who expect accountability for the investments are thinking, “Now that we have the means measure, how come the agency doesn’t lead the way in proving out ROI?” The answer might be that it really isn’t their job. Long-term media agency agreements haven’t kept up with the pace of change in the data driven marketing world. Agency scope of work contracts need to be updated. As long as you’re looking to craft a new contract, why not hold a bake-off to see who can do it best?
What are the marketers looking for?
I think this one is pretty obvious. Marketers are looking for a silver bullet: one relationship that can offer planning expertise with creativity, buying clout, technical chops, software development and analytic proof that their programs are the best. One fantastic partner who can do it all. They are looking for best-in-class service that is great today and will be even better tomorrow. Not seeing all of that in the incumbent, let's see if there is someone else out there somewhere, right?
Is a new agency the real answer?
Why go back to the same system that prompted you to review the business in the first place? There are lots of reasons to seek a new agency partner. I’d argue the current make-up of media agencies is more than well equipped to handle traditional services without big data. But is one new AOR really going to have better ad tech than another?
Some of the agency holding companies own outright, have financial interest in, or have “white labeled” ad tools for use in their ad technology “stack”. Many more cobble together several disparate company offerings to cover the bases. As the potential purchaser of these capabilities, the marketers should ask to look under the hood and see what’s powering the engine. They need to understand the value the agency adds to the use of one or more disparate ad tech offerings in their bundle. How will the agency keep the technology current? Is it an all-or-nothing approach where the agency only uses those tools in which they have a financial interest? Can that be objective? Is that partner willing or capable of looking outside their current stack at new and better options? Can they track to business outcomes?
Finally, let’s not forget that agency reviews also occur to bring budget efficiencies. Is selecting an AOR who will direct audience targeting or programmatic buying to their subsidiary agency (who will also require fees for their service) going to be the best option in the new world of data driven television? Ad technology companies are the entities actually working on the software and research driving the industry forward. Why not partner directly with them to reduce third party fees and get state-of-the-art solutions all at once?
As always, the media business keeps getting more and more interesting. Data driven media options will not get less complicated. The multitude of agency reviews is testament to the fact that change outside the comfort zone of the AOR is coming. It might already be here.