MediaCom's head of Beyond Advertising UK on key content trends and media agency transformation

Tom Curtis discusses key content trends and the next big thing for media agencies

Tom Curtis is the managing partner and head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising UK at MediaCom. During his time there, the company has evolved dramatically and has gone from being a media agency to a content and connections agency, which makes his thoughts on transformation within media agencies a stronghold.

With almost a two decades worth of experience at Media Com, Curtis said: “We have been producing content for a long time and we now have a very robust content creation and production optimisation offering in MediaCom advertising. We focus on producing very high-quality content that engages consumers.”

Based in London, Curtis heads a team of around 100 content specialists working across UK and international clients. Speaking to The Drum, he discusses key trends in content, what he thinks is the next big thing for media agencies and his upcoming appointment as judge for The Drum Content Awards.

What do you think are the key trends right now?

It’s not new, but remains current, and that is the ambition of brands to ‘do good’. Some campaigns are in danger of looking alarmingly cynical, but some are powerful, appropriate and effective. But the important thing some brands (and their agencies) seem to forget is whether the activity has a positive impact on their business as well.

What has been the most innovative changes you have seen from the industry in the past couple of years?

I’m particularly excited about the changes in the ways and means that content is produced. We’ve seen some really interesting new companies launching and growing, particularly in the area of crowd-sourced content creation. The idea of having hundreds of thousands of creative people, from many different backgrounds, responding to a client brief is very compelling.

More importantly though, diversity has become a really important focus within agencies themselves. It’s vital that agency staff members, and the work they produce, represent the audiences they are targeting. But critically, it’s just the right thing to do to have a diverse and well-represented workforce.

What’s the next big thing for media agencies?

Transformation. The objective of media agencies hasn't changed (to help their clients grow their businesses) but the way they are doing it is going through a phase of rapid change. One of the many changes is the alignment of creative and media services.

Some companies are doing it by integrating P&Ls; some are physically bringing agencies together under one roof. There are a lot of potential pitfalls and there’s a lot of PR fluff, but those who get it right will have the brightest futures.

Where do you see the content industry going in the next 12 months?

The industry will slowly adapt and we’ll see more and more agencies announcing structural changes or their new positioning. But some of these changes will be little more than a façade, attempting to convince others that they’re ahead of the game. It’ll be interesting to see who walks the walk.

As a judge for The Drum Content Awards 2017, how important do you think these awards are to the industry?

At MediaCom we refer to everything as ‘content’ – both traditional advertising and what many people refer to as ‘branded content’. The lines are often so blurred that it feels superfluous to spend time debating their definitions.

That said, much of the industry, and many brands, still approach advertising and branded content as different things, and if that’s the case, it’s not a bad thing that there’s an increasing focus on the latter. That’s what these awards do.

The relationships consumers have with brands are undoubtedly changing and traditional advertising, though still successful in many cases, will need to adapt accordingly. We cannot ignore the necessity to develop more innovative ways of communicating with our target audiences. The Drum Content Awards shine the spotlight on exactly that.

MediaCom had 23 nominations at the 2016 awards, you won four and were commended for four. What advice can you give to this year’s entries from that perspective?

Make sure you have a set of robust insights that lead to a brilliant idea that has the results to back it up. Sounds obvious, but so many get it wrong. I’ve seen lots of seemingly made-up insights based on massive leaps of faith or anecdotes from panels of one, presented as facts. There’s such a huge volume of information at our fingertips. Let’s use it.

And the results shouldn’t just be media metrics like views or impressions but proper tangible business outcomes – such as sales or, at the very least, an increase in propensity to purchase. Far too often I’ve seen awards papers citing the number of people who have seen a piece of content as a key reason it should win, but we all know that in the vast majority of cases views can be bought. If a client doesn’t want sales results to be shared, your challenge is to present what results you can include in the best, most compelling way possible.

What did winning mean for MediaCom?

MediaCom has been generally quite successful in industry awards over the past few years. We’re proud of that. We have a lot of really great clients producing a load of fantastic work with some brilliant agency or media owner partners. What awards such as The Drum Content Awards do is demonstrate another side of our capabilities – those in areas such as partnerships and content creation. Basically, the kind of stuff MediaCom Beyond Advertising produces.

In The Drum Content Awards, there’s a lot more variety in the agencies competing, from creative agencies to media agencies to PR agencies to so-called ‘content’ agencies, which makes the entries a lot more varied and the awards more interesting and unpredictable. To win against such a range of competitors and brands is a privilege. We don’t take winning awards lightly.

Curtis is a judge for The Drum Content Awards 2017. The deadline was on Friday 28 July but extensions are available. Get in touch with Emma Mercer at to arrange yours.

Sponsors for the awards include: The BCMA, The Drum Network, The Drum RAR and TINT.

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