Once upon a time, not very long ago, media agencies employed people to do one of two things: plan or buy media campaigns. Creative agencies did their thing, PR agencies theirs, and so on and so forth in a nice, orderly fashion. How the world has changed.
Today, a glance at the job titles of my colleagues here at UM London reveals a wide and ever-expanding range of skill sets – strategists, researchers, econometricians, data analysts, search technicians, developers, community managers and content producers, to name but a few.
This change is tremendously exciting on the one hand, but existentially daunting on the other. It invites questions. What is it that we actually do? Who are we? Why do we exist?
These sorts of questions are hard to answer at the best of times, but they feel particularly difficult to answer right now, because so much change is happening all around. Just as media agencies are growing their creative capabilities, so creative agencies are beefing up their channel understanding, employing media practitioners and muscling in on social media management and shopper marketing. The divide between the disciplines is getting thinner and thinner.
Only yesterday, I read an article reporting on the consternation and anger of an executive creative director at one of his clients awarding a creative project to a media agency. How dare they?
But the battleground is broader than just ‘media versus creative’. Retailers like Amazon are challenging the media distribution and production model, monetising their channels and employing media planners to manage their inventory.
Google takes more media budget than any other organisation in the land and yet looks like no other. And management consultancies are getting in on the action too, wrestling strategic jobs from agency counterparts and winning digital development projects.
So, where do media agencies fit in? What is our place in the world? The answers to these questions are surprisingly clear. They spell out what I believe will be the big themes for our industry in the coming year and beyond.
First, never has specialist knowledge of channels and people’s use of them been more critical.
The communications landscape has become extremely complex with an ever expanding choice of marketing categories, vehicles and tactics. Decision-making around channel and device usage will have a big impact on marketing and we know from surveys like IBM’s 'From Stretched to Strengthened' that the majority of chief marketing officers are under-prepared for this.
However, it is not just individual channel understanding that is required. Integration has become vital too, be that brand and activation channels, programmatic and CRM or consumer and customer marketing. Channel understanding is what media agencies are good at.
Channel integration is what we should aim to become exceptional at. We have the opportunity to take the intellectual and strategic high ground and we should rise to the challenge.
Second, never has more data been available to help marketers and their agencies understand rapidly evolving customer journeys, and subsequently the messages and content most relevant along those journeys. If media agencies can rise to the challenge of driving the strategic agenda around channel integration, why not set the bar even higher and ambitiously lead the way in crafting the initiatives and messages that will make brands more relevant and resonant in the moments that matter. After all, if we have control of context and contact, why not content too?
And finally, never has it been more crucial for marketers to have a handle on the business contribution of their marketing investments. IBM reports that 63 per cent of cheif marketing offiers claim marketing ROI as their most important gauge of marketing success, but other surveys cite that the vast majority of cheif marketing offiers do not actually calculate the profitability of their marketing.
A genuine gap exists and who better to fill it than media agencies? If we can elevate ourselves to lead and influence the strategic decisions around key context, contact and content inputs, we should be best placed to lead the agenda around measuring outcomes, too.
So, back to the start… Why do we exist? We exist to help our clients’ businesses and brands grow. The levers we can pull to improve our contribution are multiplying at a dizzying rate and the competition to control these levers is getting more and more aggressive.
Disciplinary silos should be a thing of the past.
Agencies that preciously cling to old rules and definitions will fail. Agile organisations that use their curiosity to drive progress, innovation and creativity will flourish.
That is why, at UM London, we believe Curiosity Works.
Tony Mattson, managing partner, strategy, UM London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7073 7345