The 3-Legged Stool - Mike Drexler

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: The 3-Legged Stool - Mike Drexler

We've seen some unsurprising headlines in the press recently. Media companies are going directly to advertisers, bypassing the agencies. Is this something of a trend that changes the way buying and selling is conducted? I hope not. But some things do have to change. You have all heard of a 3-legged stool. But what does it mean in the advertising business? What are the three primary foundations that allow our marketing messages to be created and reach the consumer in the way we would like to build our business?

Simply enough (1) the advertiser (2) the agency and (3) the media. All three need to be part of the process. But how and when do they intersect? What is the most effective and efficient way to make them work together?

Not enough has been done to think of our business as a truly integrated 3-legged stool. The relationship between the advertiser and the agency is well known. (And it is much better than generally acknowledged). But the media companies themselves are generally brought in after the strategic planning process has been developed. When the budgets are set. When the allocation of media expenditure is usually established. And, in many cases, when the execution is ready to go unless something significant changes. So the media come in to fight for a share of the already allocated budget pie. I think that's a shameful underutilization of time, energy and most important, strategic assets. Let me explain.

The media companies and their properties have many leverageable assets to offer an advertiser. Not just their fundamental currency like pages or spots or other advertising units. They have content, they have promotion materials, they have unique audience insights and research, they have PR, they have experiential marketing, they have events, they have storytellers, they have ideas and much more. So why don't advertisers and their agencies take full advantage of these assets? Because the media don't position them well enough to build business for an advertiser. Agencies really do want to have more ideas and assets at their disposal. But only if the media can understand the specific needs and requirements of the advertiser. And if the agencies are willing to share it.

Some media feel agencies discourage them from going directly to the advertiser. We know there's some truth to that. But the fact is that agencies don't want to be blind-sided. So the responsibility for real advertiser benefit lies in genuine partnership among advertisers, agencies and the media. Because, in most cases, the advertiser encourages the interchange as well as fostering the relationship. We need to build this three legged stool together. Let's bring the media into the agency process early enough and more directly, with an open mind, to make a real difference.

The media need to know how to represent themselves with a wider scope of capabilities (not just a package) that fit well with the advertiser's goals and objectives. They need to know who to see at the agency and when to meet with them to get in on strategic development as well as implementation. None of us want to waste time. So it's important to understand the process and get the right information at the right time. This can and should be done because there are a lot of valuable resources out there that are not being tapped properly. And that's a shame.

Mike Drexler is Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Drexler/Fajen & Partners a media consultancy and agency review firm. He can be reached at

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