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Will tech threaten the role of media agencies this year?

By Stuart Bryan, content manager



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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January 14, 2020 | 5 min read

Traditionally, the role of media agencies can be explained simply as this: assemble the right team of people to put clients in front of the right audiences via the most effective media mix.

AI tech marketing

This requires a deep, nuanced understanding of consumer behaviour. However, the past few years have seen advertisers obsess over tech platforms to such an extent that both existing and potential customers have almost been relegated to statistics.

People first

We’re told that automation and other technological breakthroughs are rendering the role of human beings obsolete. AI, Blockchain and programmatic are all existential threats, we’re warned.

We seem to have lost sight of the fact that media agencies have enjoyed great success as collections of people who each possess their own strengths. The most successful agencies create a culture that harnesses these strengths and brings them to the fore.

Workplace wellbeing is now rightly nestled at the top of the industry agenda - and there it must stay. But morale also arises from being given the opportunity to truly express yourself and advance your capabilities. This is one area where the industry’s fascination with tech platforms and efficiency is problematic.

Prioritising short-term gains harms brands

Elsewhere, we place acquisition and conversion rates on a pedestal, but what about brand building? What about capitalising on the deeper motivations and stimuli that entice consumers? A great brand only becomes such with a joined-up, inventive approach to media planning.

Granted, efficiency is important in this age of digital, nimble brands. We also need to ensure that, with technological advances altering the way people consume media, we stay one step ahead. We cannot survive with an anti-tech attitude. Instead, the role of a media agency in 2020 will be based on a symbiotic partnership between human ingenuity and tech-harvested data.

Choose wisely

The trick is to separate the tech that is going to effectively inform our approach from the tech that deflects us from our real purpose.

A platform developed by our digital partners at Fifty, for example, aids the planning of our media campaigns by collating social media data that helps us create targetable customer profile segments.

Additionally, value can be found in the optimised processes facilitated by tech. Online performance marketing has been powered - with varying degrees of success - by such systems for a while now, with agencies refining activity on a test-and-learn basis. What may surprise some people is that this capability has also been in place across other channels for a number of years.

The Adalyser platform, for instance, enables our planners and buyers to glean insights from a TV campaign’s performance through parameters such as ad creative, day of the week, month, time of day, TV channel and postcode. With it, we can reduce Cost Per Leads and Acquisitions by refocusing activity on the best performing areas of the campaign.

Human experience

Yet without the intuition, experience and knowledge of skilled professionals, information generated by such tools isn’t used to its full capacity - data only becomes insightful with human interpretation. It is the role of a media planner and buyer to formulate new ideas based on these insights and enhance campaign performance through their application.

Let’s also not forget that most basic of human strengths: building connections with other humans. We are the conduit between brand and media owner. The people who negotiate the best rates, build the right relationships, identify new opportunities and safeguard against the misallocation of budgets. We cultivate friendships and become trusted partners who are personally invested in the success of our clients. We put out fires before they spread and provide the spark that ignites client growth.

Media agencies remain vital

Ultimately, wonderful things happen when people are given the freedom and confidence to truly express themselves. That’s as true for media planners and buyers as it is for anybody else.

The role of media agencies in 2020 will therefore pivot on the ability to harness our knowledge and expertise into developing coordinated strategies around the optimal media combinations. To facilitate this, we will work flexibly as an extension to our clients’ businesses, immersing ourselves in their cultures and objectives as only humans can.

Tech can help us perform our jobs more effectively, but it cannot be a replacement. Not in 2020 or beyond.


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