Richard Morris, managing director of Vizeum UK, takes a look at the changing nature - and role - of media agencies
Creativity in marketing is an ambiguous term. It has long been associated with above-the-line advertising content, a space somewhere between art and commerce. But this is simply too limiting for the role creativity now plays across the marketing services spectrum. And, of course, beyond.
Back in the mid-nineties, when I began my career, media agencies certainly felt like second-class citizens in comparison to our above-the-line agency friends. Look at any meeting agenda of the time and no doubt the media slot could be found just above ‘Any Other Business’. And if we are to assume Mad Men a reasonably accurate depiction of the sixties advertising scene, then Joan Harris’ disparaging remarks about ‘being stuck in a lift with a Media Buyer’ suggest this hierarchy had been long established.
This all made sense when the role of the media agency was to simply hang ads in places where people were most receptive, and to buy them cheaply. As the world began to digitise and media proliferate, clients saw the opportunity a transforming media landscape could present to their brands and marketing. The better media agencies seized the opportunity, building strong strategic capabilities, and began experimenting with new skills and resources. Media’s place on the marketing agenda was rising.
There was an interesting period towards the end of the nineties as media agencies mistook their elevated status as an opportunity to do what above-the-line agencies do and make ads. Whilst some will no doubt point to success in this space, media agencies didn’t crack advertising content and scale these capabilities. The best above-the-line agencies remain highly inspirational and every bit as crucial in the marketing process. I’m truly grateful to have shared a room with many of them.
But creativity in a media agency isn’t about making ads per se (although it can be about making content), but is a pervading force in everything we do in the pursuit of solving client marketing problems. It’s inherent in how we construct strategies that make content travel across Owned, Earned and Paid media; how we work with media owners and technology partners; and how we develop measurement frameworks fit for purpose in a converging world.
As the lines between branding and publishing, communications and commerce blur, media is moving from an ancillary service to the core of many brands and business. Original thought to produce something truly worthwhile, as creativity can be defined, cannot therefore be confined to a department but is now a necessary facet in everything we do. The opportunities presented by big data, programmatic buying and adservable media are undoubted. However if these are to create sustainable competitive advantages for our clients, they will need the application of original thought.