Are Clients Falling Out Of Love With Media Agencies?

It's the question that nobody truly knows the answer to. When does today's trend to in-house some parts of the digital marketing function end and see the market settle around a new equilibrium between agencies and advertisers?

When will in-housing reach a point where clients agree it has gone far enough, and what role does that leave agencies with?

New figures from media consultants ID Comms show we may still have a fair way to go, and brands may be tempted to take on more campaign execution work.

The typical argument I find circulating in media circles is that we currently have a situation where advertisers are beginning to in-house their data processing via data management platforms (DMPs) and CRM software to take more control and ownership over customer insights. They don't want data to leave the organisation if they change agencies, and there is more pressure on brands to look after customer data since the introduction of GDPR.



Most are not choosing to then go on and buy their own media, but instead, to allow it to be used by an agency's smart people to build a strategy, formulate a media plan and then execute it.

Cases such as Vodafone -- where biddable media is also brought in-house -- are rare. In the main, if the data has been in-housed, strategy, creative and execution remains the preserve of the agency, which is trusted for adding the brains and know-how to raw data.

However, the new research from ID Comms shines a light on this agency-advertiser relationship -- and it may not be quite what the big shops want to see.

There are a whole bunch of scores for attributes, but the main takeaway is that marketers do not believe agencies are meeting expectations. Furthermore, scores have gone down slightly since ID Comms last carried out similar research. 

The specific categories where marketers, on average, score their agencies low marks are revealing, and suggest they are not fully trusted to be objective when buying media or to gain further data insights.

The only category where marketers agree agencies are working to expectations is in providing thought leadership.

So if we consider the two major assets agencies are now selling their services on -- strategy and execution -- marketers are agreeing that the relationship offers them the thought leadership required for strategy, but there seems to be a gap between what clients want around data insights and execution compared to what they are offered. 

Let me be clear -- when talking with media executives and marketers, I have always felt that taking data in-house is the proverbial thin edge of the wedge and that execution would not be far behind. The example of Vodafone stands out here, having recently taken its biddable media in-house.

If machines are buying from machines, one can assume the argument goes, advertisers feel they have less need for an agency's super-smart executives than when formulating a strategy around which audiences to target through direct buys. 

These figures from ID Comms would suggest to me that there is scope for more in-house and for mission creep to take brands beyond just taking control of their data.

We already have some brands with a need to produce content at speed to in-house creative studios. Could we start to see this happen more frequently around media planning and buying? 

My honest opinion is that it seems likely, and these figures from ID Comms show there is much room for improvement if media agencies are going to convince clients they are indispensable.

The research does not ask what advertisers are planning to do, but does reveal that in the main, budget holders do not think their agencies are meeting expectations.

That must surely leave the door open to more media functions moving in-house.

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