I learned something from Spark Foundry’s and iHeartMedia’s new “Audio Academy.” I learned that the days when agency internal media training programs were autonomous, neutral and not subject to influence from the media supply chain they plan and buy may be over.
I also learned that the nature of radio -- now branded “audio” advertising -- has grown so complex, media agencies can no longer explain how it works, who the major players are, and how the “ecosystem” is structured without the help of one of its major players.
At least that’s how the agency and its media partner explain what led up to the creation of the jointly operated “academy.”
I get that media has grown more complex than the days when I first began covering it. Back then, as young reporter covering the agency media beat, I enrolled in media training programs in order to learn how the people I covered learned to do what they do.
I went through the entire McCann-Erickson media training program, graduated, and even got a certificate with McCann’s “Truth Well Told” seal emblazoned on it.
A year or so later, I went to Chicago and spent a couple of days learning how Publicis Media precursor -- Leo Burnett’s famed media department -- trained its rank and file, and I can tell you it was 100% neutral, without input of influence from the media suppliers it plans and buys.
I also get that agencies and their supply chain have sometimes incestuous relationships, and that when agencies get stretched for resources, they may lean extra heavily on their vendor relationships. But I don’t get why an agency with roots as pure as Spark Foundry’s would turn a big chunk of its audio media training program over to a supplier to indoctrinate its strategists, planners and buyers.
It seems a little too incestuous to me, and even if the world has grown more complex, it’s really the job of the agency to remain media neutral and not get in bed with its suppliers, especially not ones that dominate the medium it is learning to buy.
I was also a little surprised that when the companies briefed me on their academy, the executives from iHeartMedia were the top sales and marketing people. That sends a powerful signal about the intent, if not execution of the program.
Lastly, I don’t buy the explanation that media agencies need to be trained by their suppliers, because of the complexity of the medium. Yes, audio advertising has grown more complex, but it’s mainly not because of technology. It’s because of the same factors making all media more complex: fragmentation and an overabundance of choices and options to plan and buy.
During my briefing, one of iHeartMedia’s marketing execs cited “new touchpoints” like cars and smartphones, and new audio marketing applications such as “sonic branding,” as reasons for the complexity, but the reality is the car has been audio medium almost as long as their have been cars with factory-installed audio tuners, and consumers have had hand-held audio devices long before their smartphones.
As for “sonic branding” being a new marketing phenomenon, tell that to companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Intel, which have been branding themselves that way, as long as their were people who could hear them jingle.
I mean, Coca-Cola literally taught the world to sing with it.
I understand that radio/audio has some new technical aspects that planners and buyers need to be on top of -- programmatic, podcasts, etc. -- but I don't understand why an agency would turn to a vendor to school itself on them.