‘Brands without a chief media officer are sacrificing power to agencies’

With renewed calls for brands to hire a chief media officer, Alessandra Di Lorenzo, chief commercial officer for advertising and partnerships at the Lastminute.com group, says those without one are sacrificing power to media agencies.

The US Association of National Advertisers (ANA) made headlines last month when it criticised the “level of irresponsible behaviour of both agencies and advertisers”, urging its members to take control of media transparency by rewriting contracts, hiring a ‘chief media officer’ and undertaking thorough audits.

In particular, the ANA believes the chief media officer role must serve as a centralised internal resource to oversee media strategy, partner with external agencies, and work with third-party suppliers to optimise the media mix and share best practices across teams. This, it says, will ensure the controversial issue of rebates becomes less of a problem and in turn shall boost trust between media agencies and their clients.

Read more: Why agencies’ reluctance to talk about rebates is making marketers nervous

There are already some high-profile brands with a chief media officer, with Bonin Bough at Mondelez and Gayle Noah at L’Oreal UK to name just a few. Yet data from Linkedin suggests the vast majority of UK brands are still without one.

It claims there are just over 100 Linkedin members with English language profiles who currently have the title of chief media officer – or a very similar type of role. The most common industry with this job title is ‘marketing & advertising’, making up approximately 35% of the total number of members with this title.

“While there maybe some variation in the role of a ‘Chief Media Officer’ across our member base, our data shows that this isn’t a particularly popular job title,” says Jen Brett, head of EMEA insights for LinkedIn marketing solutions.

“It will be interesting to see if the ANA guidelines impact this over the next year or so and whether we see more advertisers creating or hiring for this job function.”

Lastminute.com is one of the few brands that has a high-level exec in charge of media buying. Alessandra Di Lorenzo is chief commercial officer for advertising and partnerships at the Lastminute.com group of brands, and manages a team of 40 people as well as running all the travel brand’s media buying. She firmly believes more brands need to hire someone in the chief media officer role.

Brand viewpoint

Alessandra di Lorenzo

Alessandra Di Lorenzo, chief commercial officer for advertising and partnerships at the Lastminute.com group

Let’s face it, agencies have a fantastic hold on the market. Therefore hiring a chief media officer is something the marketing industry must come up to speed with if it’s to restore some balance.

For the Lastminute.com group I run all the media buying and manage a team of 40 people. I guess you could say we are pioneering as there’s still so few chief media officers like me about or brands that have brought their media buying in-house. We feel the latter allows us to be more savvy and gives us more leverage.

Yes, there are some circumstances where we don’t have media buying skill in-house. For example, if we run an above the line campaign we will still need a media agency. However when it comes to running display ads or simple marketing, bringing the knowledge or tools in-house is the way forward. It gives us the ability to know exactly where our money is going and to make some pretty substantial savings.

The role of the chief media officer is about policing what is happening with the funds that are leaving the company and ensuring they are dealt with in the most commercially sensible way. Agencies have a lot of power and not enough brand marketers understand where their money is going when they start a relationship with a media agency. It is my role to combat this.

The non-digital-first companies are the ones most at risk. Anyone who is a non-digital, native brand is probably less skilled in the inner workings of media and should be more on guard about what is really going on.

I believe that companies already running their marketing P&L, whether that’s on the buying side or the selling side, have a natural advantage as it’s easier to see both sides of the equation. But for larger companies it is probably harder as the marketing P&L is often a completely separate division. Getting a CEO at this type of business to consider bringing in a chief media officer might be a tougher ask.

In some respects the chief media officer is like the chief data officer, as it is such a new type of role; my role was only created this year! The market still has to digest and understand, so it might a little while. But the longer it takes for brands to wise up, the greater the long-term risks.

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