How do we bridge the growing gap between media agencies and media owners?

A worrying rift is growing between media agencies and media owners, and unless the two learn to communicate effectively, the latter could be facing serious trouble. Adrian Smith takes a look back at where we've been, and whether the future looks any brighter.

I remember the very first advertisement I booked early in my media career. It was a “10×2”in The Sun (yes, way before The Sun and The Herald merged in 1990) and the responsibility was given to me by my group head at the time, who explained exactly who to ring and what to say, and thankfully it all went without a hitch.

A simpler time…

I knew what I wanted, they knew what I wanted, the ad ran and everyone got paid. Brilliantly simple.

This worked well for clients, media owners and agencies for some time. A creative media solution consisted of billboards on the Sunday night movie or a gatefold in the relevant magazine. A couple of live reads here and there on the wireless and the job was done.

That was fine for the late ’80s and early ’90s, but things started to change.

Along came unbundling. Parent companies decided that creative agencies should jettison their media departments (or vice versa depending on who you talk to) and a new arena of competitiveness was established, at a time when as an industry we were embracing technology that enabled us to understand so much more about our strategies than ever before.

Enter the era of one-upmanship. To be competitive, each agency had to undertake an exercise of continuous improvement, adding new bespoke tools and levels of complexity in order to demonstrate a greater understanding of brands, consumer behaviour patterns, etc.

Media agencies have moved on, and the way media owners are trying to sell to them is anchored in the past. These days agencies are all about analytics, data and sophisticated targeting methodologies.

Perhaps media owners in the digital space are more closely aligned with how agencies are thinking and working largely due to the intrinsic nature of the properties they are selling. If only those agencies and their clients could have a little more faith in the numbers, things would be rosy.

But back in traditional media land, we’re presenting agencies with simple proposals that in no way synchronise with what they are looking for. The “one size fits all” mentality might be convenient for the media owner, but that in itself is self-defeating.

It’s no use any sales team beating down the media agencies’ door with their current gusto. We need to change our approach to match their needs.

Now I’m sure there’ll be many media owners out there crying “we already do that”, but during my most recent tenure within a media agency I didn’t see one example of this in practice. After querying that agencies’ head, he agreed the gap was real and getting wider.

A media owners losing relevance with today’s agencies?

How do we achieve greater relevance? We first need to understand how our product can integrate with the strategy outlined by the planners.

This means moving ourselves up the decision tree – getting an audience with those that are developing the communication plan and tailoring our offering to suit them and not us. It means doing away with the “packages” we spruik because it suits us to do so. It means customising our properties to suit the strategy.

But it also means cooperation from agencies: let us know much earlier what you’re trying to achieve and give us the time to craft a response specifically tailored to your needs – less to and fro means less opportunity for misunderstanding.

Of course, many agencies are already working this way and are getting significantly better responses from media owners – to everyone’s benefit.

Ultimately we all want and can achieve the same thing – success for our client partners.

Adrian Smith is a sales development director whose career has seen him work across both media agencies and media owners.


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