Five observations on leading a media agency into 2019
A view from Matt Adams

Five observations on leading a media agency into 2019

It's September and the incredible pace of change at the top of media agencies keeps going, with ten moves so far this year.

Wavemaker, GroupM, UM, Starcom, Spark Foundry, Zenith, VCCP Media, Carat, Dentsu Aegis North and Fetch have all been affected.

It’s worth stopping and reflecting on that list. It’s an awful lot of change, on the back of some already significant leadership changes in 2017. 

It’s not surprising that media owners, clients and industry commentators are all asking the question: "Surely, leading a media agency in 2018 is one of the hardest jobs going?"

But what I’m seeing is talent that emerges in spades when opportunity arises, new blood bringing a fresh perspective, people rising to the challenge and a new dynamism and eagerness to "try new".

I can see enthusiasm to become part of a new generation of agency leadership, rather than reluctance to take up the challenge.

I can see a drive for growth and a desire to work together to deliver the right change in the right way.

I can also hear the media agency community, mindful of 2019 budgets, asking two questions. What growth can I deliver and what on earth is going to happen by the end of 2019 that will affect the answer to question one?

Answering question one is up every business in their own right, but my take on question two is there are five themes running across the majority of media agency CEOs’ minds: 

1. Where is the crystal ball in my induction pack?
Most 2019 budgets are well on their way to being locked down by October this year. In my experience I have not seen it any different anywhere. But I do know that guessing the next 16 months is a challenge more suited to Mystic Meg. Don’t pretend otherwise. 

2. Will Blockchain disrupt as much as the forecasters predict?
No, it won’t. It will enhance and evolve – and many large, billion-dollar spending clients have specialists working in this area. But that’s the tip of the client community. Blockchain will develop, but has many obstacles to being fully formed in 2019.

3. What about those management consultants entering marcomms?
Never take your eye off the competition, but I've worked in places that spend too much time thinking about others and not enough about themselves. It’s unhealthy and distracts from you creating the best version of your business that you can. 

4. What about further consolidation?
If I was to make a bet about next year, it would be about a trend of collaborative consolidation emerging among independents. It’s positive to see Goodstuff looking to back the next independent in a superb initiative, but we’re already seeing the pure, digital and full-service indies join up on pitches.
Will a pure digital independent, many of whom are looking for exits, formally merge with one of the premier league indies? Yes, I would put a few quid on that.
I personally relish strong competition – it just makes us be better.
5. What about brilliant media planning?
Oh yeah, shit, forgot about that. That thing that clients pay us to do. It’s worth looking at your business and considering whether you need to return to the art-of-the-craft. I'm fortunate enough to meet many bright individuals and they all say one consistent thing – the art of planning is fading.
I don’t care what anyone tells you – you win and lose clients based upon bloody great planning. Not a platform.

To my newer counterparts running other media agencies, I say: Good luck. We all need to succeed to keep the UK at the top of the global media pack.

Matt Adams is chief executive of Havas Media UK