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Agency Models Media Planning and Buying Research

Just 11% of marketers think their media agency’s model is fit for purpose


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

October 9, 2023 | 6 min read

A survey from the WFA and MediaSense has found the majority of international marketers are dissatisfied with media agency service models – and unimpressed by AI chops.

Someone gesturing for 'more' during a business meeting

A majority of marketers want more flexibility from media agency service models / Unsplash

88% of multinational brand marketers are unsatisfied with their media agency partnership model, according to a new survey conducted by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and media advisory MediaSense.

Just 11% said they felt their agency model was fit for the needs of modern business, while 64% said their model was ‘fit for purpose’ but required improvement in the future. A quarter (24%) said their agency model was unfit for future purposes.

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The results of the survey suggest that few agencies have managed to provide integrated service models to clients successfully, despite that being a key aim of each of the industry’s largest holding companies, a group which includes WPP, Publicis Groupe, Omnicom and Interpublic Group (IPG).

Catherine Lautier, vice-president and global head of media at Danone, said: “Clients are looking for a more ‘networked’ model, where global agency capabilities can be leveraged to unlock speed, agility and talent. This new research reveals that the gap between expectation and reality is found to be largest for these very attributes. So, as an industry, we have work to do to come up with the models and approaches that unleash greater effectiveness.”

The study surveyed 70 marketing operations at multinational brands – representing over $50bn of global media spend.

It found demand among marketers for a simpler and more flexible service model from agencies that would enable them to access agency talent and capabilities wherever they’re based. Only 45% said their current agency model offered requisite flexibility, while 63% said their model was too complex.

Matt Green, director of global media services at the WFA, said that “this appetite towards simplification can be satisfied through a distributed model where the processes, ways of working, incentives and governance are aligned, and where there is the right organizational structure and talent.

“The focus is on a more ‘networked’ model, where global agency capabilities – regardless of where they are based – are being leveraged to unlock speed and agility and improve access to talent,” he added.

The survey indicated no let-up in the desire among marketers to migrate certain areas of expertise away from agency partners and inside their own organizations. 23% of respondents said they aimed to consolidate media, creative, data and technology with a single agency partner in order to achieve a simpler set of partner relationships.

Meanwhile, 35% of respondents said they had worked to consolidate the number of agency partners their company worked with over the last two years, while 29% had moved to “internalize” their capabilities, in some cases bringing media buying in-house. Performance media, content development and analytics were the areas most frequently brought in-house by marketers, the study found – while capabilities such as planning, buying of traditional paid media, influencer marketing and e-commerce have still largely been left to agencies.

Ryan Kangisser, managing partner at MediaSense, said that the survey indicated “a clear intention towards integration with an urgent need for talent and processes to make this a reality.”

Other areas of dissatisfaction highlighted in the survey include agency sustainability (just 30% expressed satisfaction), and misalignment between agency working setups and brand-side. 86% of marketers said that automation and AI were important, but just 21% expressed satisfaction with their agencies’ capabilities in that area.

Kangisser and Green, the report’s authors, suggest the finding points to a gap between the perceived AI capabilities of agencies and the hype surrounding the technology.

“Progress around artificial intelligence has revealed to many the art of the possible, and 86% of respondents rate automation as an important area to unlock efficiencies. But while it’s important and the level of industry conversation on automation and AI is high, our research finds that satisfaction with current agency capabilities is low,” they note.

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