I know, you’re shocked. A consultant offering free advice without an invoice to follow. Well, find a quiet place and sit down because here it is: “Your media agency is not your friend.”
That’s right, your media agency is your business partner. That is the essence of the Media Transparency report issued by the ANA, ebiquity and Firm Decisions which followed the K2 Media Transparency Report. Taking you to lunch or even giving you Super Bowl tickets does not make them your friend. It is all about your business. It has always been all about your business. And as a business partner your media agency is entitled to generate profits using any means allowable by law while adhering to your contractual agreement. If that concept is not crystal clear please re-read this paragraph. If you already knew this but took the easy road down the same path as your predecessors, you are excused -- but you are on notice. As Bob Dylan wrote more than 50 years ago, “the times they are a changing.’” This, in fact, is the fundamental takeaway from the Media Transparency report.
The report echoes the call by Bill Duggan of the ANA for clients to establish a Chief Media Officer position. Duggan’s suggestion was partially due to the “increasing complexity and fragmentation of the media environment.” But in fact, media has always been complex and fragmented as compared to the tools available for their analytics. One might think it was easy to be a media specialist when there were only three TV networks to compare before cable, but back in the day media professionals had to do it with calculators. Network by network. Show by show. Night by night. Demographic by demographic.
Complex? Try comparing the male demographics on Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBS in the first, second and fourth quarters. Then evaluate how HUTs trended over the three years prior. Then include competitive programming and the trends by genre. Then do it again for every time period in prime time. Be sure all the NTI pocket pieces are available and there are fresh batteries in that calculator!
Of course, as noted in the ANA, ebiquity, Firm Decisions Transparency Report, the evolution of digital as a meaningful tool has indeed added a layer of complexity to media’s role in the marketing process. But advertisers’ DNA seemingly has never included the willingness to embrace media’s natural evolution with a better and deeper understanding of new or emerging channels. For example, if new retail sales channels were on the horizon (online e-tailing, for example) most clients would be all over it learning how to maximize sales and profits and beating the competition. But it’s just media-- so advertisers expect their agencies to be the experts and act in their best interest. Clients have always relied heavily on business partners to process, evaluate, recommend and implement media investments. Most marketers never really understood cable’s impact on TV viewing when that was the new medium. Nor did they truly understand its impact on their media spend. The business partner took care of that. Many clients feared that asking too many questions in a meeting with their agency (or with their own management) might reveal how little they actually understood. Besides, clients didn’t like seeing their friends on the agency media team squirming under challenging questions. If you are comfortable with the status quo, please read the latest Media Transparency report or see the Bob Dylan quote above.
Bill Duggan is correct in calling for marketers to pay closer attention to the media function, as they should have all along. But they don’t necessarily need a Chief Media Officer. What they clearly do need is a knowledgeable, experienced and smart Client Media Advocate. Many large clients with internal media departments believe their media specialists have the high level insights and experience necessary to know and ask their business partners the right questions -- and comprehend their answers. While that may be true in some instances, client media teams more often spend their time putting out fires and shifting inventory to ensure individual brand weight goals are met. They have little time for the transparency revealed by more probing questions such as, “Why is my agency recommending a new cable network? Why is my agency adding a new mobile platform? Why is my agency recommending a media element that is counterintuitive, or new or old or one we used unsuccessfully in the past? Why?”
Over the years advertisers have allowed -- even encouraged -- the client/agency interaction to be led by the agency. “Not I” say you, Mr. or Ms. Client? Well, did you really understand all the elements of the cross platform schedule you just approved? How and why each piece was included and its relationship to each other and your strategy? I’m certain there are some clients who rose to high enough levels at their former agencies so that they have a deep enough background to fully steward their media investments well. Others, not so much. Remember, your agency contacts are sometimes doing the bidding of their superiors who may be offshore with entirely different goals.
Let me just ask the simplest questions of every large advertiser represented by any holding company media agency: Why are your network TV upfronts negotiated on a % increase or decrease from the prior year? How does your agency use your spending power to leverage their smaller clients? Is that a value to the agency or you? What do you get from that? If advertisers are rushing in droves to shift their budgets away from tv to digital, why are your TV CPMs increasing by double digit percentages this year? Didn’t they always say it was about supply and demand? If your media agency is so big with all that clout, why can’t they fix what doesn’t work for you, if indeed they consider your best interests before their own?
While the most recent Transparency Report teases out many of the specific actions clients and agencies should address in order to resolve this very basic piece of a business relationship, the foundational question is: How did it come to this? And, the short answer is: We allowed it because we thought it made our jobs easier. After all, it’s just media.
As we know, client marketers rightly commit an inordinate amount of time and effort to seek out and then work closely with the agencies they determine will best help them achieve their goals. Oftentimes that is the end of the due diligence when it should be the beginning. It is up to the client to regularly monitor and measure the performance of their business partners to ensure that their very significant media investments result in true brand benefits. This revelation was alluded to in K2’s Media Transparency Report and followed up with specific recommendations from the ANA, ebiquity, Firm Decisions report. Historically, it has escaped the client/agency media process since . . . forever. Think about it: If your truly awful brand new TV commercial aired this week in “America’s Got Talent,” your YouTube channel and your website homepage (see Nationwide Insurance’s Super Bowl fiasco), you will surely have an unpleasant email from your management awaiting you -- at the very least. On the other hand, if your media agency overpaid for those placements by $100,000+, who would know? C’mon, be honest. Would you even know?
My free advice includes the recommendation that you pay close attention to the media part of your business. That you understand your media strategy, the alternatives and why the agency’s recommendations do or do not make sense. That is your obligation to your brand and your company. That is true transparency.
No charge. You’re welcome.
The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet management or associated bloggers.