Media agencies must sell capabilities, not just charisma
A view from Jo Lyall

Media agencies must sell capabilities, not just charisma

Continuous iteration is key to driving everyday performance.

The media world has a reputation for being loud, vivacious and glamorous. The biggest personalities have been as important as the work in giving this great industry its star quality.

You only have to look at Campaign’s 50th anniversary special edition a couple of months ago to see that charisma in action – the kind that has succeeded in founding businesses and securing accounts with the biggest brands in the world. 

Ultimately, we have been a people business and our world has been crafted by big names with big ideas.

And clients have bought those personalities in tandem with their media – at least until now.

As the focus shifts increasingly to short-term results, personality will become more augmented by product and performance than ever before. 

No longer can an agency rely on talking a big game about the long-term results their technology will provide. Clients want to get under the hood and see how the agency will add value on an everyday basis. 

Instead of pitches being one-off performances, agencies must let clients (both prospective and existing) under the skin of how they work, introducing them to the daily decision-makers and the technology they use, not just those who lead them.

So, how can agencies shape up for a world where clients primarily buy capabilities, not charisma?  

Foster a culture of customer-centricity

In the first instance, agencies should look to the tech world, where the product is everything. 

As a result of this focus, tech companies are imbued with a culture of obsessive customer-centricity and continuous iteration. 

Given it’s the influx of technology that has driven the flow of budgets towards digital advertising, it’s more important than ever that agencies start taking notes. 

Brands want performance and accountability from their marketing and the increasing visibility of client stakeholders such as the chief product officer suggests that the scope and importance of the media agency’s work is set to expand further.

In the past, agencies have used their tools like badges of honour, instead of letting clients see their capabilities in action.

Today, the only way to differentiate ourselves in an increasingly cluttered market is to demonstrate our ability to drive greater consumer demand for clients better than anyone else can.

Simultaneously, we must show that we have our finger on the pulse of tech platforms that allow us to create single views of audience, understand live behaviour triggers and have the ability to deliver seamless executions. 

It is all easy to say, but much more challenging to deliver. 

Get used to continuous iteration 

In addition to customer-centricity, clients are also looking for agencies with the ability to iterate quickly. 

By focusing on the detail of campaign performance, agencies are better-positioned to drive incremental growth for brands. 

This is increasingly urgent, because clients’ patience and willingness to wait for bigger leaps in growth is dwindling fast. 

Instead, it is about daily tweaks and iterations – informed by the media agency’s latest tool, "data" – that will have the greatest impact on a brand’s performance.

The business opportunity for agencies that are able to meet both of these demands – customer-centricity and fast iteration – is huge.

Media as a discipline is no longer siloed within the wider business world. Its influence is felt far beyond marketing, and a successful partnership between a brand and media partner can be transformative for business performance. 

Media is not merely a tool to be wielded by the chief marketing officer. A chief executive can use strategic media delivery to drive transformation throughout an entire organisation. 

Introduce clients to the full spectrum of talent

While the prominence of big personalities may be on the wane, the core humanity of what we do isn’t going anywhere.

We’re just shifting the focus to the back end, instead of the glitzy window-dressing. Even though "data" is the latest tool in the media agency’s arsenal, it is worthless without the human insight and expertise needed to turn it from cold stats into true audience understanding.

Moreover, shifting the client’s focus from the front-of-house talent is also important from a diversity perspective. 

For too long, our focus has been on the industry’s extroverts – to the detriment of people who work and think in different ways. 

By introducing clients to the full spectrum of talent who will drive growth for them, agencies are not only selling their full business potential but also empowering employees to visibly own the value they add.

As a relatively young sector, media agencies are well-placed to adapt to these changes. However, rising to the challenge will require listening to a new generation of clientele, powered by tech, and delivering through everyday iterations and a culture of experimentation.

For those who get it right, there could be rich rewards for both clients and agencies.

Jo Lyall is managing director of Mindshare UK

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