The Year Ahead For...Media agencies

Tracy De Groose thinks media shops should learn from the tech industry's test-and-learn approach by doing things quickly and on a small scale.

Tracy De Groose: ‘With budgets tight, agencies must be able to give clients confidence about how their media investment will deliver business results’
Tracy De Groose: ‘With budgets tight, agencies must be able to give clients confidence about how their media investment will deliver business results’

While the future rarely lets us assume anything, network forecasts predict little improvement in market conditions in 2013. Europe is unlikely to be driving much of what little growth we will experience. Many of our clients will find this year a challenging one. The onus will be on us as their agencies to help them find positives amid the pessimism.

When times are tough, it’s tempting to revert to tried-and-tested formulas. But doing the same thing on a reduced budget rarely succeeds. Ploughing budget back into old ways of using TV, for example, will not solve new business challenges. Instead, we need to help our clients succeed in a risk-averse environment. We must build compelling reasons for them to try different things and help them manage the risks involved.


When we look at the global growth businesses of the moment – whether it is Google with its "70/20/10" strategy or Facebook’s mantra of "fail faster" – they are united by an emphasis on making things happen in the now. Media agencies could gain from a similar shift: away from talking about what we should be doing and focusing on how we achieve things. This shift from the "what" to the "how" is creeping up the agenda: global chief marketing officers I talk to are seeing the benefits of a test-and-learn approach when combined with careful understanding and management of risk. This year will be about beta-testing, being brave and not being afraid to start small. This is what we should be encouraging our clients to do and we should be leading by example.


In today’s media environment, doing things quickly and on a small scale can give you an advantage over slower-moving conventional approaches. A great example of this was our social video response work with Bodyform. When someone left a negative, mocking comment on its Facebook page, the traditional response would have been to mitigate and manage – either responding with a corporate rebuttal, removing the offending post or ignoring it altogether. Instead, Bodyform was brave and Carat was able to move quickly. We created content for the brand that matched the tone of the initial comment, thus extending the conversation.

A speedy and humorous response to a sometimes taboo subject earned a tactical film that cost little to produce but attracted more than 40 million impacts in just a few days. Such exposure for a small investment could not have been achieved through tried-and-tested methods. Massive credit must go to the Bodyform client for their support and ability to make things happen within their own organisation. It showed that if a test-and-learn strategy is to be completely effective, agency and advertiser must share three things: clarity on the desired outcome, a real sense of partnership and an ability to move quickly where necessary.


Through media, the point of transaction and engagement are becoming ever closer. For planners, developing the best understanding of how to exploit this convergence will become increasingly critical. In buying, new technologies such as trading desks that move away from exposure towards behaviours that get closer to a sale will be a key battleground. Media owners, clients and the big agency networks’ trading desks are investing time and money finding their feet. The value of a client’s data will be a central concern. Our own trading desk, AMNET, has become essential for clients who want to keep their own information away from third parties.


Last year, we saw Gocompare.com planning TV campaigns based on profitability, thanks to our econometric model that uses Google Trends data to predict competitor spend. We will see this focus on precision planning for business outcomes expanding in many different ways, with use of multiple data sources running throughout.

While having the right capability in terms of insight and evaluation will be essential for great planning in 2013, a focus on measurement and account-ability will be universal. With budgets tight, agencies must be able to give clients confidence about how their media investment will deliver business results right from the off.

Insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting a different outcome. Using the same methods on a smaller budget won’t work for clients this year. By twinning the test-and-learn culture of the technology sector with a diligent approach to risk management and accountability, agencies have the opportunity to produce innovative work and incredible results in challenging times.

Tracy De Groose is the chief executive at Carat