‘Clients expect what they always have’: Media buyers on supporting media owners and making bold decisions in 2021

What will clients expect next year? How are agencies booking media? And what will clever media buyers be focused on? Mumbrella's Brittney Rigby asks Mark Duffy, Claire Fenner, Virginia Hyland, Megan Kay, Mark Lollback and Ben Shepherd for their thoughts ahead of the new year.

In order to negotiate the most treacherous year the majority of media buyers have ever experienced, agencies had to continually revisit media plans, help clients achieve stability and (possibly, depending on the industry) recovery, and juggle a very busy pitch calendar as multiple brands sought cheaper or better partners.

But what do those clients expect next year, as the industry progresses further into COVID recovery? Is ongoing uncertainty impacting the way agencies book media? And what will clever media buyers be thinking about?

Clockwise from top left: Shepherd, Lollback, Hyland, Kay, Fenner, and Duffy

What do clients expect from your agency/ies in H1 2021 and beyond?

Mark Duffy, national head of investment and digital at Starcom: Clients will expect agencies to be their partners in recovery. Now more than ever, clients will need more support from their agency to assist in the scale up to a recovering COVID economy.

When it comes to media buying, brilliant basics will be a given. Clients will be looking for near real-time analysis and insights of a market that has ‘changed’, as previous benchmarks on consumer behaviour have become less reliable with media consumption shifting rapidly. We will need to have a constant finger on the pulse and adjust accordingly.

Claire Fenner, managing director at Atomic 212: What our clients want and need from us as their agency partner hasn’t changed dramatically heading into 2021 and beyond – ultimately, we maintain our focus on delivering results for our clients’ businesses.

In 2021, there is even more pressure on the need to deliver results and be able to understand what channels and tactics are driving the desired outcome.

As we move beyond 2021, any client that doesn’t have a well-established cross-channel modelling program in place will be at a disadvantage. Not only does this approach enable us to measure and report on the effect of all touch-points holistically, but it also future proofs measurement beyond current digital-centric cookie-based measurement.

Claire Fenner

Virginia Hyland, CEO at Havas Media: After a tough year, of course many clients are looking at 2021 as an opportunity to accelerate growth and to return business to pre-COVID standards.

Our clients will be looking at us to help determine how they create this growth in the fastest, most efficient and of course most sustainable way. Ensuring every dollar our clients trust us with is invested with care and integrity is our unwavering duty of care.

Mark Lollback, CEO at GroupM: Clients expect what they always have, effective relationships that they can rely on, work that delivers on their objectives, and innovation and fresh thinking that drives their businesses forward, faster.

There are a few areas that are rising to the top and are common conversations with clients for the year ahead. Those are around the relationship between martech and marketing and how we help them navigate the complexity; advanced addressability to connect with consumers in relevant ways; expertise and specialist support in data and analytics, tech, ecommerce, search and social, programmatic, [and] martech.

Megan Kay, managing director at Zenith Melbourne: Our clients are looking to us to find opportunities in our new COVID life behaviours. As examples, our recent increase in QR code adoption will allow for deeper brand interaction and more data collection, increases in shopping from home will unlock more e-commerce opportunities, and increased uptake in streaming and podcasting will unlock new audiences.

Megan Kay

Ben Shepherd, general manager of media at Thinkerbell: Clients engage agencies really for a handful of reasons, which are all generally related to a strong understanding of how to communicate with their customers and the ability to act on these to create value at a pace faster than their competitors. This will remain the case in 2021.

How are you approaching booking media in 2021 given the way COVID-19 continues to impact channels like out of home, and the scheduling of live sports events on TV?

Mark Duffy: There is no doubt that media consumption habits have evolved and will continue to evolve in 2021, and we will need to be dynamic and adjust to these shifts ensuring the right media channel mix to reach and connect with our clients’ target audiences. A very timely example of being dynamic is the rescheduling of the Australian Open.

We have been engaging with our media partners more closely than ever to understand their audience’s consumption habits as we navigate the new normal. We need to ensure we get access to the right opportunities for our clients, and we also need the media to play a bigger role in matching their content opportunities to the right clients across all media and live events.

Mark Duffy

Speaking with our out-of-home partners in particular, who have been one of the hardest hit channels in 2020, they are expecting a recovery year in 2021 and are already seeing audiences reaching their highest levels since mid-March 2020, which is great news for them. We look forward to supporting their recovery as our clients’ target audiences engage with OOH formats.

Claire Fenner: We recognise the need to maintain flexibility to allow us to respond and adapt to the changing market conditions, but we’re also continuing to work with media partners to find new ways to approach the challenges we’ve faced this year.

Not only do we need to be prepared to respond to changes in audience or consumption directly affected by changing COVID-19 restrictions, but also the volatility in market demand which we have seen in a few channels in the last couple of months and is likely to continue into 2021. Our trading teams are actively monitoring market conditions and identifying challenges and opportunities as early as possible so that we can leverage these across our client base. As always, we’re also closely monitoring client results to understand when we need to adjust our strategy based on market changes.

Virginia Hyland: If this year taught us anything, it was the importance of strong, mutually beneficial partnerships between advertiser, agency and media owner. Throughout the COVID-19 period, when times got really tough, everyone found a way to support [each other]. We were all actively looking for ways to help each other out and this created an exceptional environment for creativity and innovation that led to some outstanding results.

Virginia Hyland

Moving into 2021, I am determined that the problem-solving camaraderie formed through these tough times is something that I and the team at Havas Media Group take into the new year, doubling down on nurturing these special relationships. We certainly won’t forget the support that media owners provided our agency and our clients as the market begins to thrive in 2021.

Megan Kay: We are approaching the 2021 market with confidence as we move toward a national ‘COVID normal’ way of living. We are, however, building increased levels of flexibility into partnerships to protect our clients in the event that they may need to pause or move campaigns if their businesses are impacted by any further and unforeseen lockdowns or restrictions.

Our media partners have been incredibly supportive and flexible in helping us and our clients navigate the challenges of this year and are continuing to do so as we implement [into] 2021.

Mark Lollback: We take an ever evolving and improving approach to media through tech, commerce, experience and communications.

Demand has been unprecedented in Q4 and that is going to continue into 2021, so that means almost a two-speed approach. We have to makes sure that we plan long term enough to ensure we can keep ahead of demand, but on the flip side, remain agile and flexible enough to pivot quickly when we need to. We’ve really sharpened our ability to do this throughout 2020 and worked with our clients to understand the need to move quickly and make bold decisions when we face change and when proactive opportunities present themselves.

Mark Lollback

Ben Shepherd: It’s a delicate balance. You want maximum flexibility but at the same time you want maximum choice and quality of supply. You want to minimise future liability but also not find yourself wanting when it matters.

The approach is moving close to being a just-in-time type approach where you’re minimising the liability you hold but maximising efficiency and choice. This probably is less a COVID thing and more a prudent thing to do.

What should clever media buyers be focused on next year?

Mark Duffy: We will need to continue to deliver business and human outcomes from our media buying. But more so than ever, we will need to be dynamic to the shifts in media consumption both online and offline, then adjust at pace.

Beyond this, clever media buyers should focus on integrating transact-able media into group marketing services to solve broader business challenges, leveraging our trusted position with our clients. From [a] recovery partner position, we can consult with our clients on broader Publicis consumer marketing and communications solutions. This could be marketing technology integration into media, data strategy and partnerships, addressable media, CRM, etc. We don’t have to be the subject matter experts in these areas, but knowing how they integrate and enhance media buying is critical for our clients’ recovery and growth.

Claire Fenner: Smarter media buyers need be focused on understanding what media channels and tactics are going to most effectively deliver results for their clients. Without this knowledge and insight, the smartest media buyer can optimise activity and maximise value without delivering real returns to their clients.

All too often, media buyers have a blinkered view of performance, viewed through a media-centric lens, without looking at the bigger picture with a business growth mindset. The level of insight derived from our always-on modelling allows us to optimise and adjust channel mix and tactics to maximise outcomes for our clients.

Virginia Hyland: We all need to be very aware of the impending changes to third party cookies on the Chrome browser (set for 2022). Clever buyers have already started to scenario plan for this, creating experiments that put in place third-party cookieless solutions to learn which alternative approaches will work best.

We will also be very much leaning into all the hard work that is taking place on the publisher side to create effective solutions using first party data.

This is going to result in a return back to partnership and relationships, helping guide our digital investments with confidence and clarity.

Megan Kay: Attention and relevancy should be heightened in importance due to a potentially cluttered market next year. There is likely to be a lot of noise competing for share of attention, spend, time, etc, so they need to make sure their clients stand out.

Clever media buyers should also be focused on partnerships that can prove effectiveness. That way we can start shifting conversations away from the cheapest rate/CPMs, and focus on media and channels which drive true outcomes for clients.

Mark Lollback: In 2021, it’s going to be more important than ever to link media activity to ROI and effectiveness, to link data and insights to client opportunities.

We’re always focused on delivering enhanced value to clients, and making sure marketing spend goes as far as possible, as effectively as possible across quality, brand safe inventory. That means seeking out bespoke integration opportunities that make brands famous and drive their growth, the delivery of long-term planning throughout the year, as well as taking advantage of opportunities that arise in the shorter term.

Ben Shepherd

Ben Shepherd: Finding value in ways others can’t.


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