The Road To Ignition

David Ogilvy once wrote that he never worked in the media department of an agency, but “observation of those who have been successful in this field leads me to think that they need an analytical mind, the ability to communicate numerical formats, stability under pressure and a taste for negotiation with owners of media.”

Not a bad assessment and many of these fundamental traits still hold true. Fast-forward to today and the demands on our media department, especially the buying side.

They have swelled to include so many other facets, such as changing viewing patterns, complexity of choices, measurement, consumer and channel insights, behavioral science and a solid understanding of advanced data management.

It is no coincidence that media agencies have been redefining their buying departments. Many have adopted “activation” or “investment” as a way to modernize their practice.

Activation makes sense as you are acting on something. Investment also makes sense as you are managing client budgets with the sole job of maximizing those dollars for the best deals, though it does sound a bit like being in the banking business.



So why is it so important to rename an agency’s buying operation?

After all, the fundamental function hasn’t changed in decades. But, alas, we work in an industry that is constantly on the move, fragmenting and morphing on what seems to be a daily basis.

The reality is that clients feel confident knowing their agencies are staying current and contemporary across all disciplines. Which is why agencies are always reinventing themselves.

When looking at the major media agencies, they throw around phrases like:

  • The No. 1 global media investment management group…
  • We are a diverse group of innovators, technologists, designers, scientists, musicians, strategists, buyers
  • We provide clients with meaningful, strategic leadership which spans media planning and buying
  • A modern media agency that provides brands with innovative media solutions powered by sophisticated planning and buying technologies.

It feels like those two terms, which everyone uses, aren’t quite enough to truly express the importance and urgency of media buying in today’s environment. Especially for boutique media agencies like us, their buying operations should be coined ignition.           

Webster’s Dictionary defines ignition as “the act of igniting something.” The ignition team is the spark plug that drives communications plans.

The job is not simply to achieve the goals set out in the plan, but to bring them to life.  It also speaks to the release of energy, an action that creates a reaction measurable with KPIs.

Please forgive the automotive metaphors. But when you think about it, when the day comes where all activity flows via programmatic, we’ll all be truly automated and driverless.

Looking ahead, given the evolution of how buying is defined, agencies must continue to refine how they go to market in this ever-changing and complex media landscape.

Even David Ogilvy couldn’t have predicted where we are today, let alone where we’re headed.


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