Paid, owned and earned: whose role is it anyway?

tom robinson

In this opinion piece Tom Robinson argues many agencies are too fixated with titles and territory to adapt to modern ways of working.

For some time I’ve been trying to shed the moniker of ‘Specialist’ within MediaCom.

Within many media agencies Specialists are often referred to as people who don’t buy media. I would have agreed with this rationale four or five years ago but it’s become quite a dated concept within the modern day agency.

‘The great convergence: The agency turf war for earned media’ was one of the most interesting panels I witnessed during Mumbrella360 this year.

Sitting on the panel we had representatives from Media, PR, Digital & Creative agencies. Listening to them talk about the role of agencies in today’s environment was fascinating as it touched on a subject that I’m very passionate about.

The Great Convergence panel: (l-r) Matthew Gain, Edelman; Mat Baxter, UM; Karalee Evans; Anthony Freedman, One Green Bean/Host; Steve Coll, Droga5 (now With Collective)

The Great Convergence panel: (l-r) Matthew Gain, Edelman; Mat Baxter, UM; Karalee Evans; Anthony Freedman, One Green Bean/Host; Steve Coll, Droga5 (now With Collective)

As the panel discussed the imaginary lines that were put up to provide agencies with boundaries, distinct roles and responsibilities the general consensus was that, for better or worse, these lines have been blurred.

I worked for two digital agencies prior to joining MediaCom where I was anything but a ‘Specialist’, I was one of the many people who turned up to do the work we love. Upon joining a media agency four years ago, I was all of a sudden cast into this strange ‘Specialist’ unit that acted and worked in a completely different way to what was classed as normal.

I reference the Mumbrella360 panel as it was interesting to hear the various opinions on the roles of agencies today and who’s responsibility it was to deliver on (another of my disliked concepts) Paid, Owned & Earned communications.

As an industry, we appear to love typecasting people with clear frameworks and terminology which, as a result, gives us a sense of control and meaning. The irony of this is that outside of the advertising bubble, no one really cares.

More often than not clients aren’t concerning themselves with who delivers and executes great ideas and consumers certainly don’t care about whether the branded content they saw was Paid, Owned or Earned media. The labels we love to apply are irrelevant and useless except in pitches where it becomes much easier, rightly or wrongly, to sell in services this way. What really matters is how many dollars were spent and, in turn, how many people took action.

As an industry, we need to take a step back and not say “I work in Paid” whilst someone on the other side of the table says “I work in Owned”. We work to deliver and execute the best ideas for our clients and their audiences. Simple.

We need to talk about ideas that can deliver the best impact and not the media type or terminology associated with it.

Despite all this, the thought of a Media agency suddenly offering creative or content services seemed to unease a few people. Both MediaCom and UM, in the last 18 months, have repositioned themselves as The Content & Connections Agency and The Creative Connections Agency respectively, to much uproar amongst the industry.

This change in brand positioning was due to the realisation that agencies can no longer continue to operate in these silos or with independent ‘specialist’ services looking after a particular area. Without a medium there is no content and without content there is no medium. The two are inextricably linked and should be planned in such a way.

Agencies need to evolve and accept that the industry has changed and clients do not (should not, at the very least) care who looks after what, but only be demanding and expecting the best work. Whether that comes from a media agency, a PR agency, a digital agency or a creative agency is completely irrelevant.

What I’m not suggesting here is that the best solution is a simple ‘one stop shop’. Some of the best work we have done in recent years has been extremely collaborative, working with several agencies towards one goal – delivering the best work for our clients.

I am also not suggesting that there shouldn’t be a clear understanding around roles and responsibilities when collaboration is needed.

However, what I do believe needs to change is the idea that agencies should work within the confines of their product or service that have been set over the last 30 years. Media agencies today buy digital media, create social strategies, develop apps etc. Does this mean that they are no longer media agencies?

Paid, Owned, Earned, Media, PR, Digital, Creative; it was extremely uplifting to see these various sides of the advertising world come together and agree we are our own worst enemy. Great work doesn’t conform to these titles, so why do we?

  • Tom Robinson is head of content distribution & strategy at Mediacom

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