Back in the old days of full service agencies the often-told joke was that the media element of any client presentation had to be fitted in to the 10 minutes before the important matter of lunch. No matter that the allocation of millions of pounds was at stake, no matter that the client had just spent a jolly two hours debating where to shoot the next TV ad, 10 minutes it was. If you were lucky.
Most clients knew very little about the media world, and cared less. There were, and are honourable exceptions like Coca-Cola, Procter, Unilever and no doubt others but for the majority it was all too confusing, and, well, numeric. In part this was due to the media people themselves (I speak as one) over-complicating life, talking in jargon, frankly being boring.
Have things changed? Up to a point. There are today many people in media agencies that are more than capable of talking coherently and interestingly (and for more than 10 minutes) in making recommendations relevant to their client's business.
There are others – including far too many digital specialists – who are making the same mistakes we made: confusing everyone, speaking some weird jargon and making recommendations that are somehow disconnected from the world inhabited by their client (or most of the human race, come to that).
And what of clients? Are they fully engaged with the major issues of the media world? Are they better informed than they used to be? With the obvious exceptions mentioned above I'm afraid the answer has to be 'no'.
It is hard to think of any other example where tens, hundreds of millions of pounds are spent with such little knowledge held by those doing the spending. Yes, of course advertisers hire auditors to pick over the fine detail of what's been done with the money but shouldn't clients themselves take more interest in how the agencies are planning their campaigns as opposed to simply in what was bought and at what price?
This goes beyond education. There are many examples of agencies spending a day or two with bored brand managers explaining what the words mean; there are many conferences (normally ignored by client unless of course they're flattered by being on the platform); there are books (unread by most clients).
Clients at a senior level need to engage with the principles of how to spend their media budgets as effectively as possible. This may not be as exciting as where to shoot the next commercial but it has a far greater commercial impact.
At the end of the day, media is too important an investment to be left solely to the media agency.
Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells at Leo 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 email@example.com.
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