Media is no place for Luddites

We should celebrate an industry that refuses to stand still, PHD's Mike Cooper writes. Indeed, investing in technology is the only way to navigate an increasingly complicated business

Cooper: ‘We need to employ people who are very comfortable with technology and have a real interest in it’
Cooper: ‘We need to employ people who are very comfortable with technology and have a real interest in it’

Thirty years is quite a long time – a generation, in fact. Media Week is 30 years old, and I’ve been working in media (well, marketing, advertising, as you will) for 31 years, so it’s a good time to reflect on how our business has changed in that time – and what, if anything, we can conclude.

I went to see a very senior client recently, someone I had not met before. She’s pretty high-profile, definitely high-powered and very inspirational. She opened the meeting by telling me how lucky I was to have worked in an industry that has seen more change than any other she could think of.

It’s true, and that’s really something that we should celebrate because it has driven the growth of media and has helped create expanded opportunities for us all. These changes are driven by technology more than anything else.

Thirty years ago, media was a very narrow area and an inferior subset of advertising. It was broadly very executionally driven and was for people who were good at numbers but who didn’t want to become accountants. 

Today, it’s hard to think of anything that is not media. Where does media stop?

Consequently, we work across a considerably broader range of services. This is evidenced by much greater media agency headcounts – and significant independent revenues that mean media is dramatically more important to holding com­panies today. Plus, of course, the constantly growing number of media-focused events and awards all over the globe.

So media is unquestionably a much bigger part of the entire marketing process, which raises major issues such as talent, remuneration and collaboration. It also means that there is a much greater need for specialist skillsets because the business is so much more complicated.

To be effective in this new world, there are two areas that we need to take very seriously indeed.

The first is to think differently about talent. We need to employ people who are very comfortable with technology and genuinely have a real interest in it, to the extent that they follow it outside of work avidly.

More critically, they need to be so comfortable with technology that they seamlessly think creatively in technological environments; "creative technologists", they can be called.

Second, the increased complexity of the environments our clients are facing means that they need media agencies to play more of a communications consultancy role. This means that there is a rapidly growing need for communications planners, particularly with large multinational clients.

These individuals have to demonstrate a 3D understanding of who the consumer is and be equipped to target them with creative messages at each stage of the purchase funnel.

Once you multiply all of the above across different brands and geographies with all the data that this entails, managing a big client’s business becomes very complicated indeed.

The only way in which our business will be able to manage this is through making significant investments in technology. Source, PHD’s global, gamified operating system, is an example.

As I write this, I realise that my client was absolutely right. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to help us realise the scale of the changes we have all been living through for the past three decades.

Mike Cooper is the worldwide chief executive of PHD


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