Media, creative and data are inseparable. Let’s stop pretending you can split them up and achieve the same results

Agencies should be mastering the holy trinity of data, creative and media. Because, as Nick Cleaver argues, while clients can achieve results with a disparate group of agency partners, it's not as effective as media agencies also being really good creative shops, and vice versa.

In a world where a Microsoft study tells us people are so bombarded with messages and that we now have an attention span less than that of a goldfish, it is more important than ever that we use every tool at our disposal and all our ingenuity to capture people’s elusive eyes and minds.

But sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case, as many CMOs are discovering as they hunt for better outcomes and partnerships where they can harness data and creativity to better connect the medium, message and moment.

The Forester Wave report on global media agencies published in May provided a stark reminder that in this age, where people are becoming more challenging for advertisers to reach, the separation of media from creative is making that challenge even more difficult with “competing agency factions and disintegrated campaigns”.

Professor Don Schultz

It also seems sadly ironic that these findings emerge in the same month that the icon of integration, Professor Don Schultz, passed away: the man who authored the 1993 textbook ‘Integrated Marketing Communications’. Commenting on Schultz’s legacy, Mark Ritson notes what an enormous shame it is that the concept of integrated communications has become less popular at a time when the world of communications has become less and less integrated. All of which has made marketers’ lives harder and less successful as they manage multiple relationships and competing agendas.

This separation is becoming ever-more painful as the performance marketing capability of media agencies is ever more pivotal to activating content across pinpointed audiences. And while media agencies do offer content and tech capabilities, they tend to predominantly take a tactical performance driven view of what to create rather than a unified long-term view of brand building and the broader brand narrative.

There are, of course, holding company examples where brands are offered holistic solutions across integrated agency structures, but these tend to be restricted to large global businesses and, even then, the structures required to administer the collective outputs can prove unwieldy, time consuming and potentially costly. As one VP of marketing is quoted in the report “The ability to manage large-scale global clients, strategic buying efficiencies, and creative is something you don’t often see in a bespoke holding company model.”

But necessity is the mother of invention and it is inevitable that these interdependent disciplines will be brought ever closer together either within the holding company structures or within individual agencies prepared to invest in the platforms and skill sets necessary to manage the complexity and realise the undoubted opportunity.

Ultimately what will dictate the convergence of data, creative and media skill sets is the growing dominance of digital, addressable media. In 2020, digital media constitutes over 50% of advertising spend in Australia according to IAB research. By 2024 it’s predicted to grow to 75%+ of spend. That’s a staggering statistic. This clearly explains the move and focus of companies like S4 Capital as it builds its business on the three strategic pillars of: digital ad content, first party data, and programmatic media buying.

But could one dare to suggest S4 Capital’s Sir Martin Sorrell is only seeing part of the picture, albeit a very profitable one? He’s focused on channels and execution, rather than on what it should all emanate from, which is, of course, brand strategy. Surely the biggest opportunity lies in solving a major client headache, which is: How do I marry brand strategy and brand building into a more connected narrative, from broader brand messages to more personalised lower funnel activities that live predominantly across owned digital touch points and in the world of programmatic media buying?

The size of this problem is astonishingly underscored by the fact that only 28% of 500 B2C marketers surveyed by Invoca say they have a fully unified marketing strategy.

The answer is bringing together the holy trinity of data, creative and media thinking more holistically. All bound together by brand strategy born from first party data insights. This isn’t rocket science, but the complexity and divisions we’ve built into the process are breathtaking. Good luck out there trying to decipher genuinely channel agnostic recommendations from those tainted with self-interest.

Our point of view has always been driven by the belief that it was a mistake to pull apart the core disciplines of strategy, creativity and media and that they always worked better together. (Indeed, we saw it as the power of three. And it became the inspiration for our name – 303).

It’s possible through a range of different suppliers, but time consuming and problematic. It’s much easier with one agency partner that is skilled across the inseparable holy trinity of data, creative and media.

The truth is, creative ideas have always been more effective when seamlessly connected across touch points, presented to the right prospect, in the right channel, at the optimum time, and served at the right cost.

To do that effectively today, we need to additionally harness the road map of the customer journey charting how we move people down the funnel, utilising insights garnered from first party data. We need big, adaptive creative ideas that can achieve different objectives, be translated into different formats and messages and served into that funnel using the ad tech that can track response, enhance our understanding of customer behaviour, and lead to further refinement of our strategy and our messaging.

So, fundamentally, the process has really never changed, we just now have a lot more data and tech smarts in how we place that message into market.

I know this is hardly a revelation, but it’s confounding how some clients persist in managing a disparate group of specialists, with a lack of the processes and systems necessary to synergise the various components of the marketing mix.

There’s an emergent group of agencies now very competently managing data, tech and creativity but there are still surprisingly few that have invested in a full performance-based media capability (besides ourselves, I can think of only a couple of others). And as referenced earlier, there are still very few media agencies that offer anything more than fairly rudimentary content creative capabilities, even though they’d be well placed to offer a complete solution.

Don Schultz must be rolling his eyes looking down upon us and thinking “Oh for goodness sake, how many times do I have to tell you?”

Nick Cleaver is CEO of MullenLowe Australia


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