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Behind Jolt Digital’s mission to bring more science to media planning

With strong competition between agencies, creating IP or technology is one strategy to standing out. The Drum speaks to Jolt Digital founder Sebastian Lepez about his ambition to transform the media buying process, and win a few clients along the way.

Independent agency Jolt Digital has launched its own planning tool, J-Cal, which aims to replace ‘gut feeling’ with technology and science, a move that founder Sebastian Lepez believes is a long time coming from agencies.

Lepez says he set out to make a tool that removed the cost and resource needed for media mix modelling, or econometric-based studies, which was previously only in reach of the world’s biggest advertisers and agencies.

“I worked for 13 years in media agencies and I realized that planners, when they are creating a media plan, mostly do it based on media metrics or gut feelings. It means that they really plan with expected sales that the plan could deliver. Expected sales, or sales, comes post-campaign rather than pre-campaign. That's what made me realize that there's a gap currently in media planning,” he says.

The tool, which Lepez built alongside former colleague Guy Hearn, from Fullbeam, promises to use a more sophisticated modelling technique to help automate some of the processes so that planners can more accurately predict where media should be bought at the start of a campaign, rather than later.

Lepez believes that as clients entrust more data and budget into the hands of agencies, it is the responsibility of the agency to return the best plan they can.

“Let's be precise. We are playing with lots of data in our hands. Budgets are quite big, so we have an obligation to clients to bring a more scientific approach and not just to do it on gut feeling, it's not efficient enough,” he adds.

He also says that the tool was built after drawing on his client-side experience and witnessing frustrations with the same process being used in media buying by all agencies, which has led to non-transparent practices in the past.

“I think that the industry is in need of change. This has been requested by clients for many, many years. Clients have had enough of agencies doing the same media plans, again and again, or keeping the deals for themselves. They need to change or they need to bring in something different. I think this is what smaller agencies are bringing, they are shaking up the established, big network agencies,” he says.

To compete, or even be seen as an option as an independent, having a USP is one way to get the attention of brands. This has been a consideration for Jolt Digital when creating J-Cal as the technology will be kept for the agency and its clients for the time being.

“For us, it's not just about being able to say that we are an agency that is trying to be more agile and nimble, this is a given, but we are here to provide the technology that is really helping clients to do better, and planning in the most scientific way,” he says.

“We want to keep it for our clients and our future clients as well. When we create a strategy when we are pitching, this is something we can use to show that we are different and we are bringing some rigour to the planning. We are not planning to white label it or sell it to all the agencies because why should I help the competition do what they should have thought of a long time ago? It's their problem. For us, now we are solving an industry problem and I don't think I'm ready to bring it to an agency on a silver platter,” he adds.

In what has been a challenging market for a lot of businesses, holding some unique tools close to the chest could be a smart move for a smaller agency. Jolt Digital has now launched the tool to its clients and is running live with some small test projects, ahead of a wider rollout.