Meet the Media Minds: Keith Tiley, global chief investment officer at Wavemaker Global

Adland has a tendency to fixate on creativity at the expense of those planning, buying and executing campaigns. But no longer. In The Drum’s newest series, Meet the Media Minds, we dig into the creative ways the world’s biggest media agencies are navigating the digital waves. Up this week, we have Keith Tiley, global chief investment officer at Wavemaker Global.

What would be your first lesson for a newbie buyer?

The classic advice is to treat the media budget you are managing as carefully as if it were your own money – that’s still sound advice. More generally, like any new job, put the hours in to research the business, your clients, media vendors. You can never have too much information.

What are the biggest challenges facing the business?

As a business we continue to treat media as a commodity and push to the lowest prices. We’re all complicit in that: clients, consultants and agencies. As we typically pass the burden back to the media owner, this impacts their margin and, in turn, their content budget. As content quality subsequently erodes, audiences decline and the migration of advertiser money accelerates – it’s a vicious circle. Sooner or later advertisers will be paying nothing for nothing... or, more probably, left with one or two huge platforms with whom they’ll struggle to effectively negotiate.

What platform or channel excites you the most and why?

I started in the business as a TV buyer and, as a media consumer, I still love TV and video. The gamut of content available today across linear and streaming platforms is incredible and great content is relatively timeless. A few years back I watched every episode of every series of The Sopranos via the DVD box set – it was every bit as engaging as it would have been when it first aired.

What’s the most clever or innovative use of media you can think of?

Spoiler alert! They are two recent pieces of Wavemaker work. From Poland the ‘last ever issue’ work is genius – buying the country’s most popular explicit men’s magazine and releasing one last issue to celebrate powerful Polish women and ‘correct’ much of what the magazine had published over previous decades.

The work deservedly won a Glass Lion at Cannes. Similarly cheeky and left field was a campaign from the Wavemaker Italy team to take over a major linear TV broadcaster for a day to showcase their Netflix client’s content.

How is your agency evolving and how’s that differentiated from the competition?

Over the past year, we have completely rewired Wavemaker; we’ve launched a new global proposition – ‘Positively Provoking’ growth for our clients and our people. We’ve built a global operating system accessed across all our markets and housing our modular planning product – Provocative Planning. We’ve restructured our global leadership team across Clients, Countries and Capabilities to create a stronger sense of consistency and connectivity across our 88 markets. The agility of the business and the energy of our new positioning have combined to see us retain and expand our remit on every one of our 20 global partnerships and we’ve led the world in new business success, welcoming among others Philips, Pernod Ricard, Prada, Perfetti van Melle and ViacomCBS as new clients.

We have taken the opportunity offered by this extraordinary year and our proposition to challenge our clients to take more risks, embrace emerging technology and really get to the heart of what they stand for, all ultimately to drive growth. And it’s delivering. We believe it’s been fundamental to our recent new business success, but it has also strengthened our existing client relationships, and we are delivering growth for brands across the world. For example, in the US we provoked DoorDash, the food delivery service, to invest in its brand purpose, moving funds from their performance budgets – the result has been an unprecedented market share growth for DoorDash, who are now expanding into new territories.

But Positive Provocation is not just for clients and new business. It is woven into every fibre of us. It’s an attitude that impacts everything we do, from the way we recruit and develop talent to our ceaseless commitment to a vibrant culture where diverse opinions thrive.

The brand relationship: how’s the power dynamic, pay and the payment changing?

As procurement involvement in media has grown over time, so we have seen an understandable increase in performance-related pay – we’re fine with this as long as the mechanic is fair and even-handed. More recently, additional focus has been placed on extended payment terms – we’re not a bank but will work with clients to find sensible solutions. However, we need to be mindful that quality, price and terms all have value implications and ultimately the total available value will be finite.

Is tech making your job easier – or complicating matters?

Generally, tech is making the job easier, though to clarify this is often tech we have developed ourselves. For example, our Jackdaw platform takes much of the labor and virtually all of the inaccuracies out of multi-market, multi-channel media value reporting. The AI-fueled optimization that sits in our planning platform Maximize makes optimizing simultaneously against different, highly-defined targets possible – a task that is practically impossible for humans.

Where’s the money going? What’s the shift over the years?

No big surprises here. Digital continues to grow at the expense of traditional channels with print most affected, but TV and radio are also in long-term decline in share of total media investment. Digital search is plateauing, and elsewhere the push to programmatic/biddable models continues. Most marked has been the impact of Covid in the rapid acceleration of e-commerce spending.

Make a big prediction about the sector.

More global consolidation in television. Local broadcasters will find it increasingly difficult to maintain viewing share (and advertising spend) against an increasing number of international, subscriber-funded services whose content budgets are dwarfing theirs. It creates an environment where cross-market consolidation among local broadcasters is likely.

Last week, Essence’s Clare Chapman took us through her media beliefs.