How to be an effective media agency

Three areas show where progressive media planning can help multiply campaign effectiveness, says Paddy Adams, executive director, head of strategy at Manning Gottlieb OMD.

The recent IPA Effectiveness Awards threw up two pleasant surprises for Manning Gottlieb OMD. Firstly being awarded the Grand Prix alongside Adam & Eve/DDB for our work on John Lewis, and then being informed by the IPA that we are now the most awarded media agency in the history of the IPA Effectiveness Awards.

This prompted a moment of reflection – what is it we’ve been getting right, and how can we improve on it?

Superficially, media agencies’ contribution to effectiveness is quite straightforward – target the right people the right number of times, keep the investment levels competitive, work with great creative messages and sit back and let the plaudits come rolling in. It’s a similar view of media to one that assumes the biggest contribution media can make to ROI is to make sure the ‘I’ bit is as small as possible to get the job done.

We don’t think this captures the full story.

We think there are three areas beyond efficiency and targeting where progressive media planning can help multiply the effectiveness of campaigns. And because our industry would grind to a halt without the reassuring power of alliteration, they all begin with ‘I’…

1. Impact

Understanding the role media can play in a campaign is essential. How can we use media to maximise the impact communication has on consumers’ behaviour?

At one end of the spectrum that means thinking about media in the same way as Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford thinks about dominating his sport – as an aggregation of marginal gains. Obsessing over every single part of the campaign and making sure it is working as efficiently and effectively as possible. For Specsavers that meant years of fine-tuning every aspect of the incredible "Should’ve gone to Specsavers" campaign, tweaking and adjusting to make sure every pound spent was as hard-working as possible.

At the other end of the spectrum, it means planning in a way to maximise a campaign’s cultural impact. It’s no coincidence that the campaigns that seem to have the greatest success at the IPA Effectiveness awards often seem to be the most famous ones. In some senses cultural impact is the holy grail of brand-building.

In Specsavers’ case that meant amplifying the "Should’ve gone to Specsavers" message through social media, reacting to significant, appropriate cultural moments. When the 2012 Olympics throws up an opportunity to remind organisers that there is a difference between South Korea and North Korea, social media becomes incredibly impactful. Carefully picking our moments over the years to make sure the joke doesn’t become old means the overall impact of the advertising is greatly increased.

2. Integration

If different disciplines can’t work together collaboratively and constructively towards a shared goal everything else becomes exponentially more difficult and effectiveness is the first thing that suffers. That means integration between different disciplines within a media agency – specialists and generalists, digital and non-digital, planning and investment – but importantly it also means integration between different agency disciplines. That integration comes from a clear, shared direction from the start – if you both know exactly where you need to end up it’s much easier to get there.

Without a properly collaborative relationship with Adam & Eve/DDB, for example, the John Lewis Christmas phenomenon would almost certainly not have been as effective as it has been. Much of the media agency’s job in a campaign like John Lewis Christmas is to increase the likelihood of having genuine cultural impact, and that is much easier to achieve if their relationship with the advertising agency is a strong one. Without that relationship, things like bespoke TV channel trailers and bespoke premiere ad breaks would be all but impossible.

3. Intimacy

Likewise, proper integration has to exist between agency and client to have the greatest possible effectiveness. However, we would go a step further and say that intimacy between media agency and client (in a strictly non-biblical sense) is essential. The closer the relationship between agency and client, the greater the level of trust, and the greater the trust, the greater the chance of outstandingly effective work.

This trust allowed us to help Waitrose take the bold decision to focus on brand-building rather than offer-led comms in the face of difficult trading conditions in Christmas 2011 (this was before Christmas was synonymous with big, emotional, epic TV campaigns), an approach which led to their most successful Christmas to date.

Long-term client/agency relationships also make it easier to convince clients of the need to take risks with less traditional ideas, such as convincing John Lewis to take the bold step of sharing their Christmas campaign with another Manning Gottlieb OMD client, Age UK (again, leading to their most successful ever Christmas). Those risks are often the difference between good results and great results.

An intimate relationship with a client, built up over time, also allows us to get under the skin of what really drives our clients’ business and improves our planning accordingly every year. Importantly, it means we can build up a culture of effectiveness over time, making every decision we and the client take focus on the maximum commercial impact for media outlay. That intimate relationship and focus on effectiveness is what has allowed us to win three IPA Effectiveness awards for Virgin Trains since 2004.

There are obviously as many answers to the question ‘what makes great, effective work?’ as there are clients and campaigns, but we have found that keeping a focus on impact, integration and intimacy has helped us continue to build campaigns that have the maximum possible commercial return for our clients. Which, after all, is the whole reason our industry exists.

Paddy Adams is executive director, head of strategy at Manning Gottlieb OMD

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