My route to "innovation guy in adland" has been eclectic. Along the way, I’ve often found myself in businesses with structures or partner networks that initially induce a frown but, with a little time, start to make sense. I’ve learnt to tread lightly while learning how things work.
Eventually, there comes a time when the things that didn’t make sense on day one still don’t make sense and something needs to be done. The smart move is to mention it to colleagues and see if they concur before standing on your soapbox.
I’ve had a few of these moments joining "proper" adland. There are some that are peculiar to big ad agencies but there is one that seems to have reared its head in several of the industries I’ve been in. The dysfunctional relationship between media owners, media agencies, ad agencies and clients.
In a nutshell, we don’t talk. We don’t share. We don’t really seem to understand the reasoning behind each other’s decisions.
So what’s the issue?
Media agencies are often tasked with coming up with a strategy at the same time as the creative agency is doing exactly the same thing. Creative teams are beavering away on the big idea, unaware that the media agency is already nailing down where their idea will end up.
The media owners work with the media agencies so they know the benefits of each location or placement. Can digital out-of-home media track faces? Can mobile banners target Android phone users… in Waterloo station… at 5.30pm?
The media agencies book up the media based on their strategy and targeting opportunities. Then the creative agency receives the media plan (which has come via the client, by the way). More often then not, the media formats don’t fully match the creative direction so the creative agency has to split to a two-tier production strategy.
First, potentially compromised creative that fills the media plan.
Second, the content that will perfectly match the creative strategy.
But, more often than not, the media available that will do it justice isn’t in the plan. They get labelled "special builds" or "social or PR wildcards". The client is getting super-positive feedback from everyone, obviously.
As the campaign rolls out, the focus changes to results. The client clearly wants data to track against their product sales. The media agency wants data to track the effectiveness of the buy and decide what to buy next time. The media owners want data so they have effectiveness metrics (and ideally a case study) for the next advertiser. The creative agency wants data to improve the creative messaging for the next campaign. However, most of the data reports back to the media agency. The highlights get highlighted and the poorly performing data is subtly sidelined.
My son’s recent analysis of a trip with friends seems fitting: "It’s the biggest kerfuffle!" Ships in the night. Venn diagrams not overlapping correctly. Poker players guarding their cards. The analogies keep coming.
What would I change? It would be amazing if media agencies and ad agencies develop the media strategy together. Media plans should ideally happen after the creative and media buying strategy is agreed by clients, ad agency and media agency. Media owners should forge fact-based relationships with ad agencies so that creatives understand the possibilities and can focus messaging to make placements work harder. Media agencies should share the results more widely and with greater granularity so that both client and ad agency can adjust their strategy for the next campaign.
The 'sod it' stage
What will happen if the status quo doesn’t change? Well, it’s happening already and has been happening awkwardly for years. Each party is reaching the "Sod it, we’ll do it ourselves!" point. Media owners are more than happy to book media directly as long as the client doesn’t have an existing media agency relationship. Media agencies are more than happy to pitch creative ideas to clients, even if there is a creative agency in the mix. And, let’s face it, who wouldn’t! And ad agencies (ours included) are investing in media buying (usually digital and programmatic) as it’s more cost-effective and they learn from the data.
So where to start? It really comes down to names and faces. We’ve forged amazingly fruitful relationships with media owners just by making sure people know each other and relish picking up the phone to test the water or ask for help. If you’re involved in the media "kerfuffle", you probably already know where your fruitful relationships exist.
Make them your actual friend, not your agency frenemy. Genuinely. Coffee catch-ups work wonders. Make sure your mobile has their number in it… and their first name. Call them with opportunities that make them look good.
And, by the way, I include myself in this. Call me. I dare you. I’ll buy the coffee.