Media: Double Standards - Media agencies ready to prove their relevance

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 29 May 2009 12:00AM

Simon Davis and Paul Frampton on a watershed period for media agencies, with the rise of digital and the decline of traditional ad revenues testing their mettle.

SIMON DAVIS - MANAGING DIRECTOR, WALKER MEDIA

- How quickly is 'digital' becoming an irrelevance as a distinction as agencies and advertisers become more sophisticated with media such as online and mobile?

The term might have been helpful once as a broader surrogate for online, but it doesn't work now because it has no real-world opposite and no defined boundaries - who'd be an analogue media planner? And why isn't digital TV digital, but video-on-demand is? So the challenge to a media agency is in deciding who will plan the digital ads in an online newspaper (another dodgy term) read on a Kindle, and at what relative cost. And for that, less specialism and fewer departments is definitely more.

- In business terms, what's been your greatest success in recent months?

Winning the highly competitive pitch for the London Evening Standard account was very satisfying, as was winning HarperCollins. And if down 5 per cent is the new flat, then not losing any clients (touch wood!) has to be considered a success.

- How have large declines in traditional media ad revenues (TV, newspapers etc) impacted on your business this year?

We don't do agency deals, we trade client-by-client, so we've been quicker to convert declining ad revenue into lower rates for our clients than other media agencies. It's the reason that we're the only top-ten agency publicly in favour of the abolition of contract rights renewal. We're free to structure category-defining partnership deals with any media owner because they know it will be a deal for the client, not for the agency; likewise, we're free to walk away from any negotiation because we won't have a long tail of advertisers hanging on the outcome.

- How do you describe your agency to clients/prospective clients?

I tell them that we're different and definitely not for everyone! The soundbite is we're a top-ten agency resource with boutique agency service. We are fortunate to work with clients who still value service over scale, quality thinking over lots of departments and prefer their deals to be with the media owners, not their media agency. The truth is we're dreadful at converting new business from clients that don't know us. The majority of our wins come from people that have worked with us before, and are therefore predisposed towards our offering.

- How do you motivate and reward staff who are working during tough economic conditions?

The same way we did when they were working hard in easier economic conditions.

- What's the best thing about running a media agency right now?

The variety of the job in the current fast-moving environment is very rewarding right now. We're big enough to have scale but small enough to be able to react quickly to new opportunities and changing client needs, so it keeps it exciting. Which is fortunate, really, because it certainly isn't the jollies.

- That said, what would be your alternative career?

They told me media is an alternative career and I still believe them: it's definitely better than working for a living. The only reason I wear a suit to work is because I got charged a pound last time I turned up in jeans.

PAUL FRAMPTON - MANAGING DIRECTOR, MPG

- How quickly is 'digital' becoming an irrelevance as a distinction as agencies and advertisers become more sophisticated with media such as online and mobile?

Digital is far from an irrelevance; all media is rapidly becoming digital and thus it is no longer relevant to make a distinction between "old" and "new". Digital has changed everything: the role media plays, our understanding of ROI and access to consumer feedback. Agencies need account people with a perspective on all channels, but also specialist teams alongside them to brilliantly execute in each.

- In business terms, what's been your greatest success in recent months?

Swiftly responding to the challenge above. We spent the last three months of 2008 discussing the best way to future-proof our agency. This wasn't about putting digital at the heart, but recognising that digital and traditional skills need to be fused in all areas of the business. Integrated measurement is as important as having an integrated team of strategists.

- How have large declines in traditional media ad revenues (TV, newspapers etc) impacted on your business this year?

We are not immune, but, thankfully, have been hit less hard than most. Our obsession with proving business results, whether in traditional or digital, has certainly cushioned the blow. Demand for our econometrics team has rocketed in the last year. At the same time, digital represents 25 per cent of our billings, so we are well placed in this climate.

- How do you describe your agency to clients/prospective clients?

We have no aspirations to be the biggest agency in town, but do want to be the best. We are about high levels of client satisfaction, which only comes from listening to clients. We guarantee that our clients will get senior people working on their business and they will not exit six months after the pitch. We treat clients' budgets as our own and have bespoke negotiations with media owners, unshackled from agency obligations. Our new structure also means we can confidently claim that we have the best of both worlds: "one-stop shop" combined with best-in-breed specialists.

- How do you motivate and reward staff who are working during tough economic conditions?

For us, it is about communication, culture and listening. The first element is simple. Most staff appreciate that we are in difficult times, but your people deserve to know how it is affecting their workplace. The second is to bring people together regularly and to publicly celebrate good, but also hard, work. Finally, listening cannot be undervalued. We have a staff council, who give feedback from the floor. Last week, a request for an alternative reward in these hard times came through; four days later, we announced two Friday afternoons off in the summer for all staff.

- What's the best thing about running a media agency right now?

That we are no longer just a media agency. We advise and consult for clients on the optimal communications mix that will grow their business. I get excited every day when I see the opportunity to further evolve our product offering and be more relevant.

- That said, what would be your alternative career?

I'd like to be a tennis coach, working with kids. I love tennis, kids and nurturing talent. I promised myself one day I would do a job that gave something back and was based in the open air!

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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