The future of media agencies

By Sam Garrity | Managing Director



The Drum Network article

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October 6, 2017 | 7 min read

Media agencies are facing the greatest level of disruption in our vertical we have ever seen.



I mean bigger than when we decoupled creative agencies from media buying agencies, when we were back in the day when everything was full-service, and bigger than the event of digital advertising and digital media in itself.

That moment when agencies like us were born, with new capabilities that the market did not have. This is bigger than that, because it’s fundamentally about the root-to-branch adoption of digital technology, and changes within the media landscape that affect the entire advertising and publishing supply chain.

How digital adoption effects the advertising and publishing chain

From a media owner perspective – and I’m not just talking publisher here, I’m talking about television, outdoor, radio – there are pressures upon these media owners right now to trade their inventory in a different way. That means changes to their technology, changes to their actual business plan, the way that they run their company.

Advertisers, thinking about them as businesses, they’re the driving force behind these changes that I want to talk about. They are going through transformational changes, which mean that they need a different type of agency today, right now. These pressures, either side of us from businesses, brands, advertisers and on the media/owner side, it’s meaning that a new type of agency needs to evolve right now. At an individual level, that sets a challenge for all of us in terms of the type of marketer we are going to need to become.

Where this is already happening

These are tectonic changes I’m talking about, and if you keep your eyes open, it’s happening right in front of you, in the headlines of our trade press, every single day.

Accenture, in terms of digital, have historically been involved in the big transformational discussions with the C-suite. They have now purchased businesses like The Monkeys and Karmarama. These businesses now, they are big players across the entire advertising supply chain, and within digital transformation. They are in our world. Huge networks, like Dentsu Aegis, have purchased Merkle. The agency landscape is completely changing.

The catalysts behind this movement

Buying people in real time

Firstly, this is about the personalisation of media. It’s about the fact that now, through technology, through digital advertising, we’re interested in buying people in real time for advertisers. We don’t want to buy a huge, expensive television slot with dramatic amounts of wastage. We want to buy people in real time, based upon data that we know about them.

The necessity of digital transformation

Digital, and specifically technological changes, is placing a transformational necessity upon companies globally. It’s about the experience they provide to consumers. Think about it; where do you set the bar?

How should we execute media buying in the future?

Let’s have a quick look at how we might execute media buying looking forwards. To some extent, this is in play right now. From a data perspective, you have things like analytics, CRM, first- and third-party data, all being fed into something like a data management platform, where we segment an audience based upon their propensity to do business with an advertiser, which we then feed into our ad tech, and we purchase media.

I’m talking about buying people in real time. We can now buy TV. We, as a business, as an agency, we’ve purchased radio, using data. These doors are opening for us, as an agency, and for advertisers. And this is what it’s going to look like. We’ll be trading across the entire piece, in real time. This is a data-activated, omni-channel buying machine. It’s about an experience. You want to be plumbing in personalised creative into all this. This is about a digital experience, that we would execute on behalf of an advertiser.

What type of marketers do we need to be?

This new world that we’re talking about, where transformation is taking place, and where there is a need for a new type of media and creative agency, it’s causing debate at the minute within our industry, about what type of marketer do we need to be?

Some people are saying, we need to be left-brained. Left-brained, think probably historically Accenture, mathematics.

Some people believe we need to be right-brained, which is creative. It’s the realm of traditional marketing. That is intuition, right-brain, but I’m with my counterpart at Accenture Interactive, who believes we need to be whole-brained marketers. The whole-brained marketer needs to exist within a framework like this, where analytics, CRM, media buying and creative augment a central pillar of activity, which is based around the transformational element, the strategy and, obviously comms. It has data at its core, and it also concerns itself perpetually with every single output around customer experience. That must sit at the very core of any organisational structure.

What my message is really about, and what I want to kind of get home to you all is that we will not be digital marketing agencies in the very near future. I don’t believe we’ll even be a marketing or a media agency in the very near future. I think we are now in the business of providing a customer experience. The quicker our industry orientates itself around that central theme, I think the quicker we’re going to mirror the type of value that our clients so desperately need, as they themselves transform.

Sam Garrity is managing director at RocketMill.


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We are the UK's largest employee owned agency. We have successfully united traditional creative with our digital heritage to provide brands with a full funnel service, using a strategy we call Total Performance. Our services fall into four key areas; analytics, strategy, media and creative.

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