The case for bringing media and creative back together within agencies

In his pragmatic speech at the annual Isba conference, P&G’s Marc Pritchard called for the reconciliation of media and creative. BT’s head of media, Graeme Adams, recently admitted spending a gargantuan 50% of his time working directly with online platforms, so he can streamline operations, get straight into the action and deliver work that best serves BT and its clients.

I empathise with both of these points of view. Each are statements of intent, real clarion calls to do better by everyone. They’re also symptoms of a problem that always leads back to the same solution: integration.

Properly aligning not just media and creative, but data, planning, everything, will do more than merely refocus operations. It’ll start an industry revolution.

It’s imperative for tomorrow’s agencies to join the dots of media buying in their clients’ best interests, not their own. Media agencies have always been the arbiters of ad tech, but now it’s time for them to become consultants and advise on the best the industry has to offer, rather than just sell their own tech stacks. The role of an agency should be to empower advertisers, encouraging them to fully connect the customer journey.

Traditional models just can’t achieve the efficiency or agility Pritchard and Adams are after. If they could, nobody would be complaining.

Data science, media buying and the creatives traditionally sit in different departments. They’re siloed. They have different agendas, they work to different deadlines – they don’t have much to do with each other, really. One side does their job, the other side does theirs.

It seems mad that all sides of a business, whether on client or agency side, aren’t already stitched together at the hip. A properly integrated model pools together different sides of the business, optimising output, fine-tuning in real time. When data, execution and creative/content work together, they can react to each other’s results. Creative can edit the output based on numbers spikes; likewise, algorithms can be crafted more precisely if they’re working in tandem with the creative and people’s reactions to it, data acting as a partner rather than a clunky bolt-on.

And then a step further.

Embedding your agency in clients’ operations isn’t something you can do overnight, nor is it without teething problems.

But it’s the only true way to reach integration.

The wheels of a car won’t work if they’re not attached. A teabag doesn’t do much if you forget the water.

An agency can’t fully deliver for its client if it’s not embedded. It’s not technological capabilities that are holding the market back – it’s the business models within it that are the issue. A relevant and customised customer experience, full funnel attribution and genuine intelligence for ongoing optimisation are all possible if you do away with the traditional, isolationist agency framework.

Besides offering genuine collaboration, a fully integrated agency-client model unwinds the yarn that is spun so often, the heart of the confusion and growing mistrust of digital media: the mark-up swindle; the protectionism scandal.

When everything is unsiloed, it means no more hiding behind inflated figures. No more selling tech stacks at marked-up prices. No more dubiously relevant inventory that don’t actually best serve the client. Pure integration allows agency and client to work together, the former advising on different stacks so the latter can make an informed decision reflective of their budget and KPIs, rather than burning a hole in their pocket; or opting for a cheap option that’s just not compatible.

Integration isn’t without its pitfalls. It’s hard work. It requires a complete overhauling of everything you’ve learned from the traditional agency approach. Should you test the waters and network the operation, then it risks becoming cumbersome – can an integrated model really spread its wings if it’s only a subsidiary of your agency?

There are hurdles to stumble over, granted. That’s inevitable. Nobody gets anything right the first time they do it.

But we have to start normalising this approach. We have to start showing clients how different, how much more collaborative and fair everything can be if they choose to integrate.

If we don’t, then we’ll be getting the same tired soundbites, the same calls-to-arms for years to come. Pritchard and Adams’ cries for help will go unnoticed and this merry-go-round will continue.

If you don’t provide an open discourse, then you won’t get the chance to improve things for you and your clients in the long-term. You’ll forever be on the old, grotty patch of grass, wondering if the other side really is greener.

So don’t promise clients the world.

Do promise them a different one.

Duncan Trigg is managing director at Oliver Media

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