After two important reports about the state of media rebates and media practices in the US, the one thing that most brands don’t appear to be doing is storming into their agency offices asking for their cash.
However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t taking a long, hard look at how they manage media investment.
In our conversations with major global brands – both those who are already a long way down the development curve and those who are on a steeper learning curve on media – we see a dramatic change in attitudes.
Significantly more are now truly looking at what media can do for them and then what that means for their agency relationship. Underlying this change is a desire to think about media more strategically, as an investment in business growth, rather than as a cost to the business.
The reason there’s little public screaming and shouting is that making that switch to an actively managed, business-driving role for media requires a deep culture change in many organizations.
The change that’s been triggered by the ANA isn’t going to be solved by a detailed audit, no matter how far up the holding company chain it goes. Right now the action is all internally focused as advertisers work out the best way to restructure their media agency relationships.
The initial step that many marketers are having to make – often for the first time – is to think deeply and develop vision and clarity about media and how that can be better used within their businesses. And only then, they will look at how they work with their agencies.
Brands are starting with operational questions around issues like: is the set-up correct for media, both internally and externally correct, do they have the right talent working in the right way on their business?
They are also looking at how they can take more control of media, particularly understanding how they work with data and ownership of this information as they are becoming (necessarily) more involved in the ad:tech ecosystem. The need for transparency in this area has been far more prominent than debates about rebates at clients internally, if not in the media.
Only once they have solid answers in these areas will they seek to address the contract that should underpin their agency relationship. It may be that the changes they need to make can work in the context of their existing contracts.
What is also undeniable is that the culture has changed. We are seeing clients looking to lead their agencies more.
The ANA may not have triggered a sea change in terms of rebate transparency – for many marketers with a regional or global remit, rebates are a fact of life and just something to be managed – but it has created a shift in attitudes.
Brands are thinking more about what they need from the agencies across the board. And while some are far ahead and others are still at first base, transparency is just one part of a much bigger picture.
The ANA has put media on the agenda for CMOs and the rest of the C-suite and for that it deserves our thanks. The results of moving media into the spotlight, however, may not be quite what many observers would have expected.