Google, Facebook, Twitter: From frenemy to frival

It's important to change the language of competition in our complex media world, Lindsay Pattison writes.

Google, Facebook, Twitter: From frenemy to frival

From my research, it transpires that 2006 was the first year that many in the media industry described Google as a "frenemy". That was only two years after Facebook’s launch and the year some of us tentatively Tweeted our first Tweet. A lot can happen in a decade.

Ten years on, the only constants in our fragmented media world are relentless disruption and change. The previously reliable distinct categories of media owner, agency and tech provider have completely blurred. Facebook, Google, Baidu, Tencent and many more have established identities and healthy revenue streams as media vendors, platforms and tech providers. Amazon has moved from mere bookseller to "the everything store" to major cloud provider – and now, it seems, is interested in bricks and mortar.

Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, sat on Apple’s board, until the war between iOS and Android got too hot. Google was also the company most likely to be negatively impacted by ad-blocking on iOS 9, yet Apple was a significant early client of Google’s cloud services. Netflix should be an arch-rival of NBCUniversal, right? Yet Netflix has just paid a reputed $2 million an episode for NBC’s acclaimed The Blacklist

So, it’s complicated…

Seeing the bigger picture

From our perspective, the technology giants have become our partners and clients, as well as our incredibly smart competition. This initially caused suspicion and friction. Each is a massive waste of energy and we know clients merely want the best bespoke and integrated solution. Not to be referees.

So let’s change the language of competition in our complex media world. If I look at the online dictionary, a frenemy is "a person who pretends to be your friends but is actually an enemy". Rivals are defined as "competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity".

I see Google, Facebook and no doubt many others to come as our cooperative competition – our friendly rivals. Frivals. Not frenemies. While it may seem just a "tweak", it’s an important distinction.

In fact, we relate in more complex ways – let’s call them the "4Cs". We are:

Customers: WPP spends about $4 billion with Google as a group, so we are a significant customer and will always negotiate with them on behalf of our clients on value. A core role that we fulfil for clients is to secure the very best media for them. That doesn’t have to be the best price, but it should be best value, quality, flexibility and the ability to innovate with exclusive beta oppor-tunities. This isn’t done by aggressive tactics. As the largest source of demand, we’re offered the publishers’ best properties, so we have a natural gravitational pull. 

Competitors: All our clients are different, with unique KPIs and requirements, so they get different media recommendations. The same applies to technology. We simply recommend what’s most suitable for the client. It can be one or multiple pro-viders’ products, and it can be the whole stack in relevant instances. Sometimes this is because another part of the client’s organisation is using that provider’s products. Simply, we recommend tech solutions that we know will deliver the most effective return for our clients – as with our media recommendations – and the two should work in harmony.

Collaborators: Everything in marketing, media, advertising and sales is becoming more joined up – online and offline, marketing and retail, advertising and CRM. It’s almost impossible to offer all these technical capabilities from one company. Even the giants need to work with other tech players. The same applies to service companies such as agencies that naturally work with other types of marketing organisation. So we need to collaborate with each other on an ongoing basis. Maxus’ global values are Passionate, Agile, Collaborative and Entrepreneurial, so we regard collaboration as a core behaviour that we hire, appraise and reward against.

Clients: Media agencies frequently work for media owners, platforms and tech businesses, and so negotiate with other "competitive" businesses on their behalf. In some cases, our clients are publishers – meaning that we optimise their marketing budgets across media, but we also spend our other clients’ budgets with them every day. So we’re both customers of each other. That’s easily achieved with a mature, respectful, rational and structured approach from both parties.

Data asymmetry

In-depth marketplace knowledge is the media agency’s natural advantage when buying media on behalf of clients. The terms that we strike for each client’s spend on each media vendor are confidential. And, like any negotiation, we wouldn’t reveal what we’re paying vendor A to vendor B. On the same principle, we will often use our clients’ data to inform which buys we will make, at which price.

We won’t share our clients’ data with the vendors when making these decisions, partly because it belongs to our clients and partly because it helps with negotiations. This is data asymmetry. And it works both ways.

The vendor always knows what other agency and advertiser alternatives they have when selling a piece of in-ventory, and they do not share this information when negotiating with an agency because it helps them (the vendor) negotiate.

Collaboration at our heart

The very nature of modern media planning is collaborative – clients don’t want to be hamstrung by a single provider. Those who are naturally good at collaborating tend to be successful, and it’s a whole lot easier when we have shared clients and business objectives.

To lead to an increasingly complex media ecosystem, we need to be aware of where we compete, but can we also lean in, turn off the heat and leave our egos behind. And where we compete, let’s be assertive but also transparent and

For all of us, the future is exciting, fast and bright. Let’s move the conversation on from frenemy to the far healthier frival – and always with our clients’ best interests at heart. We’ve moved on – have you?

Lindsay Pattison is the worldwide chief executive of Maxus


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