Claiming a seat at the top table

Media agencies need to remember the difference between efficiency and effectiveness if they are to generate boardroom interest, says Nick Manning

All is not well in the kingdom of media. As Chris Ingram recently pointed out in these pages, media agencies have lost some of the status they gained when media became unbundled from the advertising agencies.

Media agencies used to be seen by clients as business partners, where strategy played a key part in mutual success. Today, however, the provision of media buying is seen as the primary service, and the agencies’ tenure of an account too often rests on the satisfaction of procurement’s needs.

Agencies, while well resourced, led and managed, have failed to demonstrate their true contribution to their clients’ success. If their starting point is “I am going to help you grow your profit by 30%”, they can expect Boardroom attention. Instead, they focus on the mechanics of media (reach, frequency, “media firsts”), and miss the bigger picture. Audience delivery is a means to an end, not the objective.

Media plans should feature measurement mechanics and, ideally, the expected ROI of the campaign, by medium and combined. This is a converged world and advertisers need guidance around it. The most successful media agencies will consolidate, analyse and recommend a wide-ranging use of data to design cross-platform campaigns, with demonstrable effects. Agencies have invested in these areas but are yet to join the dots.

As a result, choosing or evaluating an agency is like looking at bottles of milk. They all look the same, even if what’s inside is full fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed. They’re all homogenised in a client’s eyes.

The agencies all talk introspectively about their own billings and services rather than how they can grow an advertiser’s business. As a result, clients can be inclined to treat media as a commodity, and agencies have failed to invest in high-quality talent to build the foundations of a more strategically focused service.

Media agencies are the “cashpoints” of the big communications groups, providing the margins to balance the books. And it’s not in the best interests of the big groups to change. It’s a low-cost model, and MBA-level people aren’t cheap.

The industry has become confused between what is effective and what is efficient. Efficiency has its place, but not at the expense of the potential business transformation that highly effective uses of channels can bring. Media agencies have been complicit in buying the wrong thing cheaply by focusing themselves on transaction-led solutions.

Media agencies need to concentrate on demonstrating effectiveness, the real job of advertising. Then status and profits will follow. 

Nick Manning is chief operating officer at Ebiquity

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