Carat was the world’s first media agency. We pioneered the sector and have been redefining what media means for our clients ever since. Perhaps that’s why I got so animated when I was asked for my point of view on the dialogue within our industry over the future of agencies. I cannot understand staring into that future and failing to see that media agencies — and this one in particular — are more relevant today than ever. Here’s why.
1. In a digital economy, execution and strategy are indivisible
Let’s tackle the media agency versus consultancy debate.
The relationship between tactics and strategy is changing.
Media is where brands and consumers connect: every time you execute in media you’re creating an interaction between a consumer and a brand. Each time that happens, a data point is generated, and learning takes place. And each of those small learnings adds up to create a better understanding of people.
In other words, you can’t separate execution from strategy. The idea of strategy as something static — a roadmap to be executed over a 12-month timeframe — looks like an increasingly dated way to approach a problem. Strategy is more agile because everything is changing so quickly, and critically, because of consumer behaviour changes — on a monthly, weekly even daily basis. Brands need to move as fast as the consumer.
This means that transformation and strategy are intertwined. Innovation in the digital economy is critical, but it’s rarely achieved through an immediate, large shift. More often, it’s iterative and incremental. And agencies can embrace that shift, because we’re at the sharp-end of digital transformation, operating in a test and learn world, continually innovating and evolving.
The consultancies are moving into the programmatic media space. I fail to see how fragmenting media that is delivered programmatically from the full customer experience is a positive for clients. While addressable media is marching forwards in the more digitally advanced markets, global clients need an agency that can drive innovation in all corners of the world. The sophistication of media activation across the world has always been and always will be operating at different speeds. As a global media agency network, it is our job to ensure that learnings from markets and clients across different sectors are re-applied at scale.
2. Media can become the “growth antennae”
With people now spending more time than ever before in media, it is a powerful asset for businesses to understand people’s needs and behaviours, making media a sensor for any client’s growth strategy.
Media agencies have a significant role to play in enabling clients to have access to the right data sets to drive this understanding. The spectrum of data clients have access to on their own, varies sector by sector. However, in all instances, media agencies have the ability to deepen their client’s understanding of their customers. This can be done through their own powerful data assets or leveraging their scale and spend to develop the right data partnerships with global platforms and publishers who are now an increasingly important source of insight.
At Carat, we utilise M1, our Real People platform. We use this platform for developing audiences for our clients who don’t have their own 1st party data or to augment existing 1st party data that a client has.
Either way, the goal is to create the fullest view of both their known and unknown consumers. With every burst of activity we run, we learn more about who these people are, and this enables us to create better and more relevant experiences for them.
3. Execution must be as agile as strategy
Having the right data in place is one thing, having people use it in the right way is something else.
People are skipping ads, ad blocking and cutting the cord from advertising. Media agencies are now in the game of earning attention for their client’s brands. Mass personalisation is a buzzword that the industry has used for years, marketers need to have the ability to deliver this if they want to earn attention.
If our job is to build personalised experiences in media, the group of people required to do this brief by brief for clients will change. Agencies have a unique culture, where data specialists, creatives, strategists, planners, technology experts and account managers can thrive. For eight years, we have been organised and transforming our culture to enable agile teams to work. This is where different specialists come together and then separate and then rebuild in a different form for the next brief. Teams need to be able to work together from day one seamlessly. Culture is the thing that enables this.
We attract a special breed of data specialists and strategists — those who want to be around others like themselves — to share learnings, to be exposed to clients and challenges across a breadth of industries. But a mastery of data must sit alongside strategy and creativity as a core agency competence. And I see it all as an opportunity because agencies have always offered the alchemy of creative and commercial minds, but when data is added to the mix, they become even harder to replicate.
4. The transparency debate is an opportunity
Tension between agencies, media and clients is nothing new. More often than not, it’s healthy. But in a disrupted sector, that tension can turn toxic.
In four corners: Clients, Ad Tech firms, Intermediaries (trade associations and consultants) and of course, Agencies. A conversation about how agencies make their money is a step away from the right conversation: how we build relationships with our clients that deliver long-term business value.
Let’s deal with transparency. The media supply chain has been accused of being complicated and confusing, but the truth is that transparency is many things to many people. More helpful is a framework on which to build better agency-advertiser relationships. It must have at its heart a vision for clean media supply; disclosures; shared values regarding data; a goal to mitigate the cost of complexity; and most important of all, accountability to the enterprise.
While transparency matters it won’t, by itself, deliver growth. The reality of client relationships demands much, much more: this comes back again to a culture. That’s why the focus should be on the questions that drive the right culture between the agency and the client. Has this relationship got the right blend of specialisms and talent? If we create growth together, who benefits? Are we setup to collaborate with others?
It staggers me to hear (as I did at a recent global event) that agencies are not measuring for business impact. Right now, nine out of ten of our global clients have business outcomes linked to our compensation models. We have been investing heavily for some time in advanced analytics and measurement frameworks that prove the value of what we do. We have skin in the game with our clients where we are incentivising the right behaviours against a shared business plan.
As our data becomes truly people-based, and it becomes even clearer exactly who is buying your products, and the impact our media activation has had on that purchase decision, this figure will rise still further, and these models will continue to expand.
5. The full value equation (data + leverage + innovation + scale)
We are leveraging our scale and partnerships with the supply side of our business to innovate in the way they trade with us to be more people based. We are creating unique data relationships with the top publishers and media partners that enables us to use M1 to data match at an individual ID level. This creates a fully transparent, brand-safe, fraud-free media supply chain. Clients have always used media agencies to create better value from their media investments.
In the old-world, value equated to scale and media pricing which were unachievable if they traded directly. Today value is redefined as data, leverage, innovation and scale. These four things are inextricably linked, and only media agencies can deliver on them all.
In conclusion, I believe media agencies have never been more important. I see many of our competitors shying away from the word ‘media’ when they describe themselves to clients. Media has evolved, and it is way too important to avoid.
WE ARE A MEDIA AGENCY. Our clients are looking for leadership more now than ever before. My call to action to everyone in our industry is to stop letting everyone else define the narrative around media agencies; media is one of the most significant levers of growth for brands and clients require a neutral, people led solutions that will deliver the best performance from their investment.