In an era of uncertainty, media agencies need to be the experts in outcomes

A focus on business outcomes need not mean a pivot to short-term goals and performance marketing, writes Paul Knight, chief operating officer at Manning Gottlieb OMD.

2017 was a bumpy ride. 2018 is shaping up to be a real rollercoaster.

From GDPR, through to Brexit and Unilever marketing chief Keith Weed’s digital "swamp", adland and clients alike are being dragged apart by the opposing forces of technological shift, social change and political upheaval. If the current speed of change is anything to go by, the world in 2019 will look very different again. The only thing that’s certain, it seems, is uncertainty itself.

Which gets me onto media agencies. A casual glance at the headlines would suggest that media agencies are going to be in for a rough ride in 2018. But I don’t think it will be as rough we might think.

In an era of uncertainty, the only thing that matters to our clients is the outcome. And this – believe it or not – is where media agencies have always been at their most valuable. The secret to success is understanding the effect communications can have on people’s behaviour and the bottom line, and giving clients the certainty they need to invest in an unpredictable world.

But we can only do this by putting outcomes at the centre of our work and being experts in three areas:

1 - Be experts in people

A media agency’s job is to help clients reach their objectives through communications. But our clients’ outcomes can only change when people behave differently. So, media agencies need to be experts in how people really behave.

The good news is the era of uncertainty has brought new sources of data can help us to understand and predict behaviour better than ever. We’re swiftly moving into a world where we can create genuine single-source panels and use device IDs to help track behaviour from online to offline. We can plan to actual rather than claimed behaviour and fuse together a whole raft of second and third party data sources to better understand our audiences. Last year the scale of the data was daunting.

Media agencies need to be at the very centre of clients’ data ecosystem. Those that are will be best placed to harness this insight and truly understand how people actually behave and what communications can do to change it.

2 - Be experts in ideas

Media creativity and ideas really matter – by a factor of six of you go by the IPA’s "Selling Creativity Short".

But creativity comes in more forms than ever, from big brand ideas through to personalised nudges. That’s why clients need broad teams of creative thinkers from diverse backgrounds and specialisms – which is what you get from a media agency. Creative thinkers, yes, but also data planners, tech experts, researchers, marketing scientists, performance specialists and more.

This structure is still unique in an industry being picked away by specialists and management consultants. The up-shot – when it’s done well – are ideas and execution that simply couldn’t have come from any other kind of agency.

But we still need to invest in ideas and help clients make the business case for creative spending. Media agencies need to be the people who understand the business case for investment in great ideas, and help clients fight for the ones that can really change their business.

3 - Be experts in the outcome

A plan that doesn’t link to campaign and business outcomes isn’t a plan. It’s a vanity project. We have to get deadly serious about outcomes. This isn’t to say we all need to pivot to "performance marketing" – the danger of obsessively chasing short-term gains at the expense of sustainable long term growth is well documented.

Instead, we have to invest in new measurement techniques that give clients the full picture – linking short-term attribution to brand measures to econometrics to the organisational outcomes in a clear and believable way that has trust and traction in the boardroom. This trust means we can have an honest discussion about what worked, and what didn’t, learn from mistakes and build on successes.

And if we know what worked and what we did to help it, we should be prepared to put skin in the game and move from charging for time to having a stake in the results. If the outcome is the only thing that really matters, it’s something we should all get behind.

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