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Why it's time to consign media agencies to the dustbin

It is time to put an end to the term media agency and the industry should take some of its own marketing medicine, says Havas Media's chief executive, Paul Frampton.

Paul Frampton: chief executive of Havas Media

Paul Frampton: chief executive of Havas Media

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This month I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel at Media360 on the topic of 'What Clients Want' in this new media landscape. What made the experience more delightful, was the presence of the very smart, fair and informed marketer, Jo Kenrick of Homebase.

Jo eloquently expressed her desire for long-term and honest relationships with her agencies. As you can imagine, at a conference full of media peeps and many of them agencies, this was music to the ears of the audience. In a confession that possibly shocked many onlookers, Jo admitted that she spends less than five per cent of her time on media as a marketer.

She then highlighted the areas that she felt media agencies need to work on, including a deeper understanding of business, over promising the "one stop shop" concept, and facilitating more client and media owner interaction.

Jo exemplifies in many ways the ideal qualities of a client, but her admission that she can only spare five per cent of her time for media is a message that will likely give media agency bosses a few more sleepless nights. The majority of Jo's time is (quite rightly) demanded by other Marketing activities (with a capital M).

No doubt many of those activities that will include the customer, owned channels and stakeholder management, are areas that today’s media agency feels they could and should play a role in. 

Deep-rooted challenge

The five per cent insight masks a more deep-rooted challenge – the fact that the term "media agency" is now distinctly unhelpful in describing what our organisations practice today.

I repeatedly preach to our staff that I want them to think of our business as a marketing services organisation. With the traditional roles of planners and buyers supplemented with the likes of data analysts, mobile developers, ideas managers, content producers, UX leads, partnership experts and CRM strategists, you can understand why.

Our own agency today generates more than 30 per cent of its income from non-media activities, and as we stride with intent towards an owned, earned and shared model, amplified with paid media, this is only set to rise.

I'm convinced that, like myself, agency leaders will often be frustrated that their own clients are all too often unaware of the diversity of their latest service offering and as a result, will be overlooked for many marketing briefs.

So what are the symptoms causing this?

  • Firstly, as we already know from Jo, today’s marketers are time-poor and have an increasingly broad remit to manage customer experience. There’s also a translation problem, as often agencies won’t talk the language of the customer.
  • Secondly, the term "media agency" is a convenient but unhelpful classification for the industry. Advertisers still want to separate media and creative pitches and therefore consultants clearly delineate paid media from other crafts.
  • Agencies spend increasingly more time both defending and pitching business, but also constantly adapting and inventing for this brave new world. The strategy and execution of new departments, divisions and talent acquisition are a constant drain on time and resources.
  • Ironically, agencies spend a lot of time storytelling to the market, but comparatively much less time updating their existing client base on their strategic developments or investments.
  • The same is often true of that agency’s own talent. Without constant communication, training and education, it can be a thankless task for an account manager in an agency to keep up with the new services their agency provides, let alone be prepared to articulate the benefits to a client.

The ecosystem would benefit from more clients like Jo who believe in long-term relationships. The cycle of pitching every two to three years is undoubtedly partly to blame, as is a continued and unhealthy focus on media pricing and not value.

That said, media agencies do have a perception challenge and need smarter marketing strategies of their own to target the different stakeholders in the ecosystem, be that a pitch consultant, a new business prospect, an existing client or their own talent.

This is part of the reason why the Media Futures Group of the IPA, on which I sit, is prioritising a project specifically around the value of media as an investment. A collective industry push specifically towards the client community is much needed to shift the sands.

Redefining the DNA

I think it's fair to say that media agencies have more quickly adapted to the evolution in the market than their creative cousins, but so far collectively we have failed to redefine the DNA of what the term "media agency" means. Why do I say that? Because the biggest symbol of this #fail to date is the fact that despite all the radical shifts in the media market, we still live with the same archaic remuneration model for media.

Emerging media opportunities multiply by the week and are harder to master than ever. Ironically, advertisers fight to secure the best planning talent on their business, but yet payment is too often linked to how much is spent and saved on paid media.

PPC was the first digital channel to throw up the acute disparity between resource and remuneration. Today, media agencies are inundated with a raft of channels where talent inflation is in double figures, but commission rates continue to head south.

This economic friction creates an unhealthy (if often silent) imbalance within most media agency and advertiser relationships. The most progressive marketers are thankfully challenging this legacy model and are benefitting from doing so. More time spent at the outset on aligning advertiser and agency objectives and associated remuneration does pay back.

Genuine and transparent value creation is more possible than ever in the digital and data-led world we live in, plus it creates a sense of partnership and focus on the business return that a marketer like Jo is targeted on.  It just takes effort, thought and an open mind.

As I mentioned earlier, media and creative pitches continue to be run separately, but I do believe that will change in the next few years.

In a digital world, medium and message are as intertwined as data and content, so in my view there will be a future where the Media Agency 3.0 will more often than not advise on both sides of the coin.      

Paul Frampton is chief executive of Havas Media.                                                                                                                                                                                                          

This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk

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