Global media buying. What could possibly go wrong?

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It is a challenge to run 100 markets to the same standard but this is what the industry tries to do: aim for the same outcome even if the path to that outcome is different

Media planning and buying — or media investment management, as we prefer to call it — is the enterprise-scale practice of marketing services. It’s often true that creative agencies win one brand and one market at a time while media agencies win one corporation and one continent at a time. The reason is simple: the stewardship of advertiser investment is a portfolio-level issue. And that’s what we do.

At the heart of marketing services are the creation, distribution and measurement of brand-owned message. A media agency focuses on distribution and intersects with the creators and measurers on branded and native content and on modeling and attribution. The epicenter of a distribution-centric business is allocation (where, on what and how much), optimization (value extraction from the portfolio of allocation decisions) and attribution (what worked and why, and how it informs the next cycle of allocation). All this in the pursuit of brand growth and unlocking value in each channel.

The desired response from clients? "Group M and its agencies create competitive advantage for my brand as, from $1 to $N, I know they extract the most positive business outcome." Result? Happiness.

Locally, this is a complex business — and locally is where almost all media is transacted, where almost all budgets are held and where consumers receive the message.

Globally, complexity changes by orders of magnitude. We strive to build platforms that travel, platforms in data, platforms in trading, platforms in cross-border allocation and optimization and so on. Only by doing this can our agencies achieve their overarching purpose with consistency. This extends to issues of marketplace integrity such as viewability, third-party verification and fraud prevention, and seemingly prosaic activity such as reporting and competitive analysis. It takes an army. That army needs heavy artillery and field weapons that can be deployed through an elegant supply chain not just in the US and China but in Myanmar, Nigeria and, soon, Cuba — wherever brand owners seek to open new markets.

How is it possible to run 100 markets to the same standard? It’s not — but, with shared platforms, ethos and purpose, you can give it a go. How is it possible to run 100 markets with different trading structures, variances in the availability of data, a jungle of privacy laws, trading structures, compliance regulations and media vendor power structures? There’s no app for that other than application and persistence. It also requires non-client-facing overhead to keep us and them away from the menu options in the correctional facilities of far-off lands.

Our world is global and local. Bandwidth and devices are unevenly distributed. There is not a single global media owner — even Facebook has not conquered China and North Korea — and only the tiniest percentage of transactions are executed beyond single markets. So the answer to running global campaigns is to unite the planning ethos and manage the execution to a universally high standard with local relevance so that the outcome is the same even though the path to that outcome may be very different. Collaboration lies at the heart of this, between distributed front-office teams, distributed developers of platforms and between us and our clients. We have to shape-shift to their structures — and that’s rarely simple as so few are the same.

Some day, this may change as 50 apps mediate the global interface between consumers, media and services. We may see a new class of transaction, but don’t fool yourself into thinking local goes away. It won’t. Similarly, we may see the block chain and Bitcoin become the Esperanto of currency, but it won’t replace everything. We may see a regulatory detente between North America and the European Union, but don’t hold your breath for the same thing in China and Venezuela.

The short strokes are these. Our business purpose is universal and the principles of execution are universal also but, for as long as maps exist, elections are held and languages spoken, the idea of the magic button that activates the automatic global media trade is — like all good magic — just an illusion.

In our army, we have 27,000 troops. It’s not something you can replace with a 99¢ software package and not something that ever sits still. The matrix of complexity adds new rows and columns every day and it’s somewhat remarkable that we, and a few others, keep up with that change and integrate all this in the allocation, optimization and attribution functions that define our business purpose.

Rob Norman is chief digital officer of GroupM.


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