Attention Advertisers: Beware the New Jacks of All Trades – Brian Jacobs

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It was always said that everyone is an expert in two things: their own job, and advertising. Of course, everyone has an opinion, but at the same time it’s important to accept that opinions are one thing, actually doing it is something else.

After all, it is rather disrespectful of any skill to suggest that “anyone” can do it.

Yet that seems to be what happens these days. The reason is obvious; as advertisers seek ever-better value for money there is some logic in buying more services from a limited range of suppliers. The banks tried something similar a few years ago, upselling customers on all sorts of services they were singularly ill-equipped to provide. The customers didn’t really understand what they were being sold, and so they bought in large numbers on the basis of a trust in the existing relationship.

Remember when you used to trust your bank? That didn’t end too well.

Now the marketing services business is up to the same tricks as each element tries to add a new revenue string to its bow. Again, you can see why. Margins are tight, and if an agency can drive more revenue through an existing resource, so much the better.

Let’s say that, as an advertiser you like the sound of market modelling and econometrics. You’ve never done such a thing before, and you don’t profess to know that much about it but you have a load of data and you keep reading you should derive some value from it.

Your media agency agrees that such an initiative would help them propose even better solutions as to how to spend your budgets. And guess what? The agency has a marketing sciences division quite able to manage the task. The fact they’re in-house will help ensure that the process works smoothly, that all data is shared and all findings are actioned. And as a client the extra assignment will be done at an attractive price.

You don’t really understand the technical differences between the various options out there; you trust your existing relationship and so you go ahead with your media agency’s recommendation.

Often this goes wrong. Serious marketing science specialists (defined highly superficially as those with legions of smart people with PhD’s in something relevant) tell of the times they’ve been brought in to clean up after a non-specialist. Plus, clients find that agency-owned operations are surprisingly unwilling to say anything even remotely negative about their sibling agency’s plans. So maybe their objectivity isn’t quite what it might be.

Then there are research agencies who think it would be fun to be media planners. Again the logic is unbeatable -- we have tons of insight into the client’s issues and brands, we like to see ourselves as trusted advisors, so who better to advise on such as channel choice and spot length?

Millward Brown has for some time been a wannabe media planning specialist. They even went so far as to hire me to give them credibility in the topic -- a sadly misplaced idea if ever there was one.

They’ve been very busy on LinkedIn of late (a cynic would say this must be some kind of corporate initiative – “get out there and talk about stuff we know”) including posting a piece subtitled “looking to optimise … your media plan” containing this gem: “Shorter ads are generally less effective at communicating complex ideas, while longer ads are more likely to be described as interesting, involving, unique, or distinctive.”

Who would have thought it?

The fact that Millward Brown is setting out its stall as a media specialist (they’re hosting a series of webinars entitled: “Are your brands well set to embrace the most important media trends?”) will no doubt lead to internecine warfare with the GroupM agencies (and playground cries of “you started it”). The media agencies already reckon, with some justification it must be said, that they can “do research.” Some of them have even been known to offer free research (or indeed free econometric analytics) in return for a planning and buying contract.

The fact is that if you want a complex tracking study few do it as well as Millward Brown. If you want econometrics there are many fine independent specialists to choose from. If you want media planning … well you get the idea.

Jacks of all trades are regularly masters of none. That’s something else many used to say.

Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells atBrian JacobsLeo Burnett (UK, EMEA, International Media Director), Carat International (Managing Director), Universal McCann (EMEA Director) and Millward Brown (EVP, Global Media). He has worked in the UK, EMEA and globally out of the USA. His experience covers shifts from full-service ad agencies to media agencies; from traditional single-commercial-channel TV to multi-faceted digital channels; and from media planning to multi-disciplinary communication planning. Brian can be reached at

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