A timely return to the craft of media planning

In a marketplace akin to haggling on Paramatta Road for an old Kia, how do we sell spanking new Ferraris? Ian Perrin calls for the return of the return of the superstar media planner.

There was a time when media pitches were won by compelling insights, innovative channel plans based off those insights, and a prescient articulation of measuring performance.

However, since the global financial crisis, those days have passed. Media pitches, especially global ones, are primarily driven by rates, and delivering (usually unsustainable) price commitments.

In such an environment, agencies have lost their ability to sell the benefit of media planning, and clients have lost the skill to value and evaluate it.

In a time of frugality, this trend was understandable. But, smart marketers are now starting to drive a counter trend. Low rates are valuable, but in a parity market, anyone can deliver them.

Whereas ensuring media is intelligently placed, and makes a tangible impact on business metrics, is a more refined skill. It requires market knowledge, consumer insight, an understanding of media dynamics, and an experience of what, when, why and how channels work. This can’t be delivered on the standard “20% of a communications strategist” that global pitches often demand.

So, in a marketplace akin to haggling on Paramatta Road for an old Kia, how do we sell spanking new Ferraris?

Firstly, we must build them. Like so many other trends in our industry, we can look to the UK to see that a new breed of trendy hot shop planning agencies are emerging.

Most noticeably, the perfectly named Craft, who are built on senior strategy resource, working with creative agencies not against them, and focusing on smaller, local clients.

Australia once had strategy-only BellamyHayden, Naked, and Match Media all thriving and disrupting the market, but this is no longer the case. Taking buying revenue off the table may restrict revenue growth, but it ensures clients can trust the objectivity of the decision making.

Secondly, we should find better drivers. Creative agencies treat their creative department like rock stars. They understand that their “product” is creative ideas, and if they have the very best creators, then they will ultimately win.

The days of the rock star media planner are long gone

Media agencies have, for too long, seen rates as their product and built their talent base accordingly. Instead we need to better nurture, train and, most importantly, celebrate our strategic talent.

Thirdly, we need to value them. Our industry simply cannot sustain the cycle of winning business on price, that cannot be realistically accomplished. We have become the used car salesmen of the marketing value chain.

We need to stand up to our global masters and refuse to participate in margin-eroding pitches. We need to prove that value trumps volume. And we need to stand up to clients who want innovative strategic thought, but who aren’t prepared to pay for it.

Certainly, there is a nothing wrong with an old Kia, but a market needs balance and competition. So, let’s start trying to build more Ferraris.

Ian Perrin is chief accellerator at The Speed Agency.


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