In defence of media agencies

Joe Frazer, managing partner, digital lead and co-founder of Half Dome writes in support of media agencies, following a recent article claiming they are too focused on price, rather than service.

A recent article about Dr. Karen Nelson-Field’s perspective on attention metrics caught my eye, and my LinkedIn post on the topic (ironically) garnered some attention itself. I thought it would be worthwhile to further elaborate on my perspective, especially regarding the competing factors that influence the adoption of attention as an industry-agreed norm, as well as the myriad of options media planners and buyers are faced with in their pursuit to maximise effectiveness for clients.

First and foremost, I respect Dr. Nelson-Field’s expertise and acknowledge the potential of attention metrics. However, I believe it’s somewhere between an oversimplification and a cheap shot to claim that media agencies’ focus on penny-pinching prevents them from understanding attention as a metric. Our top priority is always to provide the best service and deliver effective campaigns, and to do so, we must balance costs with the ability to plan, buy, and optimize for effectiveness. This entails considering various factors, including proven historical methodologies, when determining the best approach to meet our clients’ diverse goals.

I don’t know a single client, agency, publisher, or person who wouldn’t advocate for price to be an important lever in value, and I say that as someone on the front line talking to procurement teams daily about the value media can drive.

Attention metrics, while promising, are still relatively new, with smaller data sets across key channels in some cases and without years of research linked to long-term effectiveness through marketing science. It’s essential to recognise that attention metrics or any other single solution are not a silver bullet for all campaigns or for connecting media effectiveness to all marketing objectives.

The reality is that as agencies and as an industry, we must strike the right balance between adopting innovative solutions and deeply understanding and relying on established best practice and research – an area which has come along in lightspeed over the past couple of decades. This also means acknowledging the limitations of attention metrics as a new entrant into the space, and not relying on them as the sole determining factor for campaign effectiveness.

Building value into attention metrics (which are really just a number of different proprietary definitions of “attention” anyway) requires careful navigation. Dr Nelson-Field has supreme confidence in her methodology and process. I know of other companies that would say the same but have vastly different approaches. That’s fine. Over time some will rise, some will fall, the industry will unite on the ones that work and they will become valuable additions to our existing toolkit. Hopefully one day we can even transact on them. But until that happens it is okay to test and learn, be tactical in your uptake, and frankly, to be cynical in your belief that this specific measure is THE one.

To illustrate this point, I’ll share a story from my time at a large holding group, which at the time was the largest in the country, transacting around 26% of all media through its agencies. This holding group pushed a shift to planning based on a proprietary tool that aimed to maximize 1+ reach across all platforms, regardless of impact or quality (note that viewability targets were set at that time). In today’s world, we would say there was no element of “attention planning” factored in. At the time, we called it a lack of common sense.

Anyway, on the back of this new, shiny, widely accepted tool, the holding group suddenly shifted significant funds out of TV to invest in Facebook video ads, bought to a frequency cap of one.

As you can imagine, the results that followed were less than ideal.

I’m a supporter of impactful formats, media channels, and channels that garner the best attention. However, it’s reductive to claim that media agencies nowadays primarily make decisions because they are ‘penny pinchers’. It’s a 90s narrative, and we’re long past moving on from it.

The challenge for media agencies and the industry is to strike the right balance between embracing innovation and adhering to established best practice and research. As we navigate the evolving media landscape, it’s essential to keep our clients’ goals and the broader context in mind, avoiding the temptation to oversimplify complex decision-making processes. By doing so, we can continue to deliver exceptional results, maximising value, whilst being aware of cost.

Joe Frazer is managing partner, digital leader and co-founder of Half Dome. 


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