The Future of the Media Agency

by Jed

Tom Denford (co-founder of ID Comms) has published an interesting piece over on Campaign. It’s most definitely worth a full read, but for the short of time, Denford’s article is a call to arms for the leadership teams at media agencies. He believes that we’re staring into the face of five years of upheaval and change.

I don’t think Denford goes far enough, personally. I would go further.

Denford says management consultancies are a big threat but its not just that they want to lead marketing strategy they’re also acquiring advertising technology companies, design studios, creative agencies, and striking direct deals with media owners.

Salesforce buying Krux this week is a huge play for taking a more prominent role in shaping how business communicate. Commerce, CRM, and media, all connected – a dream for many organisations.

As far as many media owners are concerned (especially those that refer to themselves as technology companies) they feel too many people take a cut for advertising that is carried on their platforms. In a world where these companies run an increasing amount of the advertising market why should agencies exist? Is it too much of a leap of imagination to think that they dream of being the engine that drives all of a clients advertising? Squashing agencies that take a cut of that media buy in the process and unifying everything through their unique user ID (looking at you Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon)?

And while all of this is going on, the model that our industry is built upon is warping beneath our feet. We are innovating, but we’re doing it too slowly.

So these are the big challenges that agencies face over the next five years.

Having read all that, you could be forgiven for thinking that we’re in a tricky spot. You could probably be forgiven for panicking, if you work in a media agency. Worry not, though. We’re in a strong position, which can (perversely) be seen by the strength of our opponents. McKinsey, IBM, Google – these aren’t small companies nipping at our heels, and we can briefly stop to take that as a compliment, but let’s not fuck about: they’re coming for us.

We offer things that they can’t, though. We facilitate more daily interactions with people than they do, we have greater reach, and we work across every channel – not just those that we own. Our data is different, deeper, and it covers more than just someone’s digital behaviour – it also covers those without digital behaviour too (hi gran!).

Our advantage is that we don’t just have our data, but we have the data of all of our partners too. We can also have an impact on both distribution and content. In many cases we have the same level of access that management consultancies do, but we get to see the sharp end of our work too (rather than just the first 15 slides of the strategy).

Most of all, we have our people.

People who believe in the power of media and communications.

People that want to make and distribute advertising that matters, that has an impact.

People that want to partner with our clients to help them grow, evolve, and prosper.

People who want to invent the future, not just watch it happen.

There are four key things we can do that would put our industry in better shape for the challenges above.

  1. We have to realise that at the end of every ad is a person. To do this, ban the words ‘consumer’, ‘user’, and ‘audience’, and put people at the heart of your strategy and planning.
  2. Use the data we have at our disposal to learn from every interaction. If we’re going to stand tall against the likes of Google and Facebook, then we should learn from what makes them so successful. Media should be our newsfeed, and we should ensure that every single interaction that a client has with a person, improves the next experience.
  3. We have to stop talking about impressions as if it’s the only thing that matters. Reach matters, sure, but action matters more. If we’re to be taken seriously against the likes of BCG and Deloitte, we need to start thinking about the impact that we can have, rather than the impressions that we can buy.
  4. Let’s stop inventing new ways to talk about advertising and media. Simplifying complexity should be our business, not the other way around.

As Denford says, “it’s time to replace fear of the complexity of media, with a new excitement in the opportunity of media”.

Indeed, so let’s get cracking.

This post originally appeared on AgencyVoices on LinkedIn.