Why Agencies Can’t Innovate When It Comes to Media. And Why That Matters.
Advertising is a unicorn of an industry. It occupies a unique place as an engine of innovation on all fronts — from hard-hitting, numbers-loving business strategy to mind-melting, culture-shifting creativity.
Agencies have traditionally been, well, the agents of all this innovation on behalf of brands. But, as with just about everything ever, the digital revolution turned the agency model on its head.
It hit creatives hard. But the strategy-focused media arena is what it hit the hardest. Instead of making innovation easier for agencies, the digital revolution made it a lot harder.
Where Media Has Been
Agencies are in the business of ideas. Innovation is how they differentiate. Unfortunately, agencies have traditionally focused most of that innovation on creative and its production. Media is often an afterthought.
The obvious truth is: it doesn’t matter how innovative your idea is if no one sees it.
Our pet theory for why media has been so (admittedly, anecdotally) de-emphasized in the past is because it’s not seen as, well, exciting. People like to put it pretty squarely on the “business strategy” side of things.
And that’s understandable. Traditionally, it was all about the relationships developed between media networks and agencies. You know, business suits and meetings over fancy dinners sort of stuff.
Where Media Is At Now
Programmatic advertising and the real-time bidding model democratized this whole media process. Ostensibly, it’s anyone’s game right now, as our own Kyle Kienitz puts it:
These new technologies brought on by the digital revolution changed much more than how agencies execute media, they changed how humans communicate. They fund the pay-per-click model that brought a new age of publishers, user-generated content, social media and more.
And these technologies not only developed incredibly fast, they hit hard.
They began to fuel one of the biggest fears of modern day agencies: obsolescence. As Mark Beeching puts it in his Inc. interview:
We have gone on adding and adding new channels, platforms, and marketing approaches without ever fundamentally examining the agency function itself or how agencies work together. It’s a mess.
– Mark Beeching
The industry is changing to pick up agencies’ slack when it comes to media. Consultancies are popping up that are much more agile. Plus, brands are beginning to think about bringing media in-house.
The saving grace of agencies is their ability to innovate. And they absolutely need to if they want to keep their place.
Unfortunately, running media these days is super complex. Technology is fragmented, fraud abounds and the sheer amount of data makes it a grind. So, even if agencies want to innovate, they often can’t.
What You Need to Innovate
We nailed down three things agencies need to do in order to develop an innovative in-house media team that can fend off the threat of obsolescence.
1. One System
We often see agencies cobbling together a cluster of technologies used across many teams to manage media. Data and analytics use data management and reporting platforms. Media and ad ops teams are hopping in and out of ad platforms and DSPs and whatever else. And they sometimes have IT teams dedicated to running around making this all work.
And that’s just scratching the surface. This whole system is inefficient and unsustainable. There needs to be one system of record built specifically for the media management process that every team can rally around.
Having one system establishes a baseline of truth across your agency.
2. More Time
Even though programmatic technology promises automation, the media management process is still super manual. We estimate most teams spend around 35% of their time aggregating and normalizing data (i.e., making it all speak apples-to-apples).
That does not count communicating or acting on that data (let alone innovating). There needs to be automation around tasks that don’t add value proportionate to the amount of time they take up. These tasks are what we call low value-add tasks. And they are eating up your agency’s time and money.
More time gives your media team the capacity to push the envelope.
3. Better Communication
So much has been rethought in the last two decades, but for some reason reporting hasn’t. Reporting needs to happen in real-time as the campaign develops. All KPIs need to be available to all stakeholders at all times.
This isn’t just for performance analysis. It’s for testing and learning and iterating. It’s what provides the much needed room for mistakes and the lessons they provide that fuel a culture of innovation.
When asked what makes for an innovative, successful campaign, LumenAd’s own Molly Fishburn-Matthew says:
Real-time analysis set up from the start of the campaign is how your team can perform on-the-fly optimizations that push performance at every stage.
Better communication allows your media team to innovate, learn and succeed as a cohesive unit.
Media teams have traditionally been, and continue to be, unsung heroes for their agencies. To maintain their place in the industry, agencies need to not only innovate at every turn, but create a culture of innovation within their media team.
As Michael Strober puts it in AdAge:
We must start by moving from a reliance on legacy systems, models and processes, to action where we embrace scalable, extensible frameworks that allow us to tackle the much larger, seismic challenges that lie ahead for our industry.
So, we’re talking about a wholesale rethinking of the role of media teams from the ground up. By using the three concepts above to create a culture of innovation, your agency will be elevating a critically underserved and overworked team.
And that’s just about the most important thing agencies can do to adapt to this new digital world.
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