Are agencies still struggling with Facebook?

Ed Couchman, director of agency partnerships.

Agencies are still struggling to fully grasp what role Facebook can play on the media plan, according to the social network’s director of agency partnerships Ed Couchman.

“Previously we've been a bit guilty of talking too much about ourselves and not about how Facebook can fit into an overall marketing and communications strategy,” said Couchman. “We're trying to help understand that, so not just around social for social's sake, but asking what can we add or what incremental reach can we provide or what value can we add to an overall communications plan as the most important thing.”

Couchman's observations came during The Drum's visit to Facebook’s offices to attend one of its Blueprint sessions, a certification and training programme to help agencies optimise the platform.

The programme is Facebook’s response to the quandary advertisers face in trying to stay ahead of the curve with innovation and understand the many iterations to the ever expanding suite of Facebook advertising products, according to Couchman.

While the social network is as admittedly at fault in communicating its value, advertisers have also played their part; many marketers still view Facebook in terms of its social value, placing emphasis on likes and other vanity metrics, something the programme is keen to encourage agencies to move away from and focus more on the marketing objectives.

However, Jerry Daykin, digital partner at Carat Global, believes the industry has come a long way from the early days of chasing vanity metrics to evaluate Facebook for the "powerful media channel that it is - increasingly using third party partners to truly validate it".

“We’re pretty clear on the roles Facebook can play in media plans, but of course the reality is that like with any media channel that role is not always the same: We incorporate their audience data in our AV planning to build a holistic plan across TV, Facebook and other channels; we tap into their vast audience to maximise reach of (near) static creative to reinforce key messages; we use their app install or direct response products when the brief requires; and we could go on.

"It is a big part of many of our clients plans today and will continue to be so, though of course it is not always the answer and as the platform continues to evolve so will our approach to it.”

While one aim of the Blueprint programme is to simply keep marketers more informed, the more interesting objective, Couchman said, is acting as a partner in agencies’ “digital transformation journey”.

"[We're] trying to answer this agenda that all agencies are looking to upskill their teams in digital and go on a digital transformation journey. All agencies are doing that – they might have different language but that's essentially what they're doing."

One of Facebook’s biggest strategic challenges, according to Couchman, is shifting perceptions of how work is created for the social network. Agencies are often still simply reusing work from other channels, rather than creating it purposely for Facebook's ad platform.

“A large amount of work we see on the platform is still work repurposed from other channels like outdoor or TV. I think it's our biggest strategic challenge – we need brands to craft work for the platform because that's when the platform really shines – we see that across the board.”

The key questions Couchman hears from agencies are around whether they're harnessing the platform to its full capability and what success looks like as well as the "perennial question" of Facebook's organisational structure – what to buy, and how to buy it.

Sabino Petruccelli, head of performance marketing at Starcom MediaVest Group, who attended the Blueprint session, wanted to ensure the planning teams had a better understanding of what data and targeting solutions Facebook offers. He said the session highlighted the importance of training across agency teams, particularly in evolving platforms.

“Too often, knowledge might sit within specialist teams – and to some degree it obviously has to – but for cross channel planners working on a diverse range of clients with differing objectives, upskilling them so they have a greater understanding will guarantee they’re more comfortable in future discussions with clients,” he said.

Facebook has faced recent criticism over its accountability to advertisers following revelations over miscalculated metrics, with the company moving to reassure brands of its plan to overhauling its measurement tools to resolve the issues.

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