Why media cannot afford to stand still

Emery: ‘Too often we behave like politicians making extravagant promises’
Emery: ‘Too often we behave like politicians making extravagant promises’

The Media Lions will showcase the wide remits of agencies today but the industry must not rest on its laurels. Four industry chiefs talk to Arif Durrani

This year’s contenders for the Cannes Media Lions promise to reflect the expansive remits of today’s media practitioners. As the place where the message meets the consumer, media, by its very nature, will always represent the fame and money side of the business.

But, as this year’s chair of the Media Lions judges, Nick Emery, has been at pains to highlight in the run-up to the extravaganza on the French Riviera, the media business is also the place where ideas should meet accountability. Stunts are not enough. He has urged the judges to look beyond the glitz and glamour to reward the connection of data, insight and execution that makes media so compelling. Great ideas should work at scale. 

The rise of the Maths Men does not necessitate the decline of the Mad Men – and nor should it. The Cannes Lions are a celebration of creativity in technology, content and invention – and the Media Lions straddle all three like no other category. We speak to Emery and ask three other industry leaders to identify three salient trends in media.

Nick Emery, global chief executive, Mindshare Worldwide; chair, Media Lions 2015

We have a collective schizophrenia. On one hand, media is limitless, every­thing begins and ends in media and brand reputations go up and down on the barometer of Google, Facebook and Twitter. On the other, pricing has to be rock bottom and media agencies are seen as suppliers of a commodity with the increasing pressure to act as principal and to assume the risk of fluctuating prices years in advance. 

If you explain this to friends who work outside our industry, they think you are nuts. Can clients really say: "Bring me something new, make it a breakthrough, make it drive sales but, above all, make it cheap…"?

This week, we can take a breath. We can celebrate the risk-takers who do their jobs with conviction and who want to work together for the joy of building something new. We work in this business because we want to create things, not produce endless spreadsheets and pricing grids – important though they are.

Cannes is a rare opportunity for us all to come together and, perhaps this week, we can begin to reset and create a new approach to collaboration.

For media agencies, this means believing in ideas and competing on invention, not price. Pursuing performance-based, measurable outcomes rooted in data science and not cheap gross rating points. It means behaving with honour and honesty. It means under-promising and over-delivering. Too often we behave like insane politicians making ever more extravagant promises to try to win over a sceptical electorate, rather than believing in the power of our ideas and our talent.

For media owners, this means collaboration, not waging war with competing and confusing walled gardens. The digital superpowers need to stop their cold war and realise that getting it right for advertisers might just be the key to getting it right for society. Apple, Facebook and Google are defined by successful competition. Their opportunity is to know when competition stops and where collaboration for the greater good begins. The first step is working together towards a common currency. This has been our bedrock for generations and, without it, nobody wins. Take a lead, come together this week and agree a standard.

For clients, this means trust – having faith that your agencies are there to serve you and create the distinction you deserve. There is a reason why Nike always gets great work. Nike leads by example, it is all about the work and nothing gets in the way.

I hope that the Media Lions winners this week celebrate the bold ideas that work, not one-off stunts. Great ideas should work at scale, not be limited to one-off copy tests or novelties designed to win awards. The Media Lions are about ideas rooted in media, created, planned and executed by media people wanting to break conventions. They are about the rigour of media combined with off-the-wall invention and effective delivery.

This week, we should remember why we started in this business – it’s the work, stupid.

Dominique Delport, global managing director, Havas Media Group

1. Seamless integration is essential. Kill the silos. They prohibit agility, slow change and destroy value. In this organic world, where the audience is now the medium, it’s mandatory that we rethink our internal organisation. Easy to say, hard to implement.

One key change we made within Havas Media Group in late 2012 was the "one P&L" structure for our 100-plus countries and dozens of entities. It is probably the best decision we have made. It has changed everything and unleashed a natural will to collaborate between our teams. The one P&L structure promotes one vision for our clients. 

It is accelerated agile decision-making and has enabled our teams to focus on what is critical in every business today: value creation and organic growth. With that same #together spirit, we encourage collaboration across our media and creative divisions within our Havas Villages, our 30 cultural hotspots with shared centres of excellence around data and content in each country.

2. Be millennial friendly. Houston, we have an HR problem – if we are not able to attract and retain young talent, how can we pretend to understand young consumers and conceive the meaningful connections between them and our clients’ brands. Today, most of our young team members, especially those working on digital, are still crunching numbers and Excel spreadsheets. Not totally appealing. And quite unfair because these young professionals also have a way to contribute brilliantly to media agencies’ futures by leveraging their own media knowledge. 

For sure, we need better tools and simpler processes but we also need a very open approach to let our millennials hack our own system and reinvent it, especially the boring parts. Half of them want to form a start-up so why not enable them to create and lead an agency project first. 

But millennial friendly doesn’t mean millennial crazy. It has to be a two-way deal. In return, they need to understand the value of their commitment. I was shocked to see a recent survey reveal that many young professionals only consider their current position for the next six months – they don’t want to project themselves into a two-year commitment. So we need to try harder. Remember that millennials will be the driving force of the business and consumer worlds in five years. We need to provide a stimulating environment for the new generation of thinkers who will help our industry to thrive.

3. Big data and big duties. Media is code and the geeks will inherit the earth. Mathematicians, engineers and programmatic data specialists hold the keys to our kingdom. Managing vast swathes of information has its own issues, however. We are "data brokers" and with that role comes responsibility. The way we manage digital inventory will continue to be a critical issue for our industry.

Those who invest in data management technology are investing in our sector’s future by taking steps to ensure enhanced visibility, authenticity and reliability. We are committed to improving the quality of third-party data and available publisher inventory via our recently launched Artemis alliance for publishers. Prioritising the investment in data management technology is critical for our industry if we want to avoid the emergence of a subprime media situation.

Jim Hytner, global chief operating officer, IPG Mediabrands

1. Invest in talent. The media industry has changed beyond recognition in recent years and will be just as different five years from now. While traditional media planning and buying roles are still important, different skills are now required to fulfil our clients’ growing and dynamic demands and business objectives.

At Mediabrands, we have invested in key areas of importance for the future: data, technology, programmatic and innovation – identifying highly talented people, not always with a pure media background, in order to future-proof our agency.

We have also introduced more diverse ways of seeking out talent across the network, such as running international "hackathons" to develop cutting-edge tools and solutions. And we’re stepping out of the traditional model of thinking all of our talent needs to be housed within. 

Instead, we’re collaborating with experts in other fields and have fostered great relationships with design agencies and universities, creative think-tanks and technology start-ups. We are working in partnership with them to develop more diverse strategies for clients.

2. Programmatic and data. Three years ago, programmatic media buying was a rising star with a promise to shake the advertising industry out of its complacency. Today, it has undeniably set in place the very change it promised – and, whether or not it scales to the expected levels, the principles it has established will drive all media planning and buying in the future. Advertisers whose internal systems and organisations are not prepared for this approach to marketing will falter and lose their competitive advantage.

A key challenge we face as media agencies is to ensure that, amid all of the advances in technology and data, we always keep the consumer – the human being – at the heart of our approach. At Mediabrands, we have a clear ethical and moral code when it comes to programmatic trading. We have access to more data than we will ever need but we know the limits and have a huge amount of respect for privacy.

3. Integration. Media now encompasses communications planning and strategy, digital, analytics, search, social, mobile and so much more. Agencies are having to adapt in order to provide a complete service to clients, thinking about every single step of the consumer journey and embracing new technological developments as they emerge.

At Mediabrands, we have responded to this by ensuring all our services live together under one roof so clients can choose to use one, several or all of them. It means our creativity and ideas have the insights and the science behind them and can be implemented more efficiently with the best technology.

The pace of change in our industry can be daunting for marketers. But the message we want to give our clients is that it doesn’t matter whether you have the exact systems, tools or expertise to tackle every new trend that rears its head. Instead, advertisers simply need to go back to their core business challenges and work out what they want to achieve. We are there to help them with our dynamic processes, people and ideas.

Colin Gottlieb, chief executive, Omnicom Media Group EMEA

Today, media agencies find themselves in a pivotal position. We have grasped new technology with the same enthusiasm as consumers; using its limitless creative potential to develop, experiment and refine new ways of doing things. 

By being responsible for how advertising monies are spent, we have also needed to answer faster the demands of clients who must deliver a greater return from the same – or a lesser – investment.

And encouraged by our largest network clients, media agencies have spent 20 years building robust global structures that today are perfect highways to transfer knowledge and apply new ideas rapidly at scale.

While we now have invitations to sit at clients’ top tables, media agencies can’t afford to relax for a second because of three key trends.

1. Clients demand better. There is a new breed of restless, focused and knowledgeable clients who demand agile, tangible, integrated solutions to drive their businesses. They know cost-cutting doesn’t grow revenue, only great ideas can. They want to understand the connection between what they spend and what they sell. They are deeply interested in new creative solutions across mobile, social and video but want to know how everything works together. They want data to be unified and ideas to be data-driven.

The future is machine buying and clients want to harness its transformative effect. But with programmatic comes major change: creative needs to become as agile as media is now, better tech is needed to manage the fragmentation technology creates and there needs to be an agency business model that better reflects complexity, risk and reward.

2. Vendors expect better. Similarly, for vendors, complexity is a huge opportunity and a significant barrier. Vendors are battling for better content, audiences and revenue. There are better platforms, tech and data everywhere. It’s ironic that even the most powerful tech vendors are paranoid about the speed of the change they are driving.

Media agencies provide vital access for vendors and promise brilliant creative solutions that deliver successful data-driven marketing at scale for clients; vendors will increasingly expect better clarity, easier access and better ideas. 

3. Consumers reward better. Media agencies are in a unique position to understand rapidly what works with consumers and why, and how best to reach and interact with tens of thousands of audience segments in real time and at scale, turning complexity into brilliant solutions for clients and vendors.

But while machine-based everything sounds great, it must not replace the creative alchemy that humans provide. Personalisation is not a collection of non-compatible #ids. If the only result from mining and optimisation is more impersonal and sterile creative work, the response from consumers will be silence or, worse, derision.

We all know consumers reward better experiences. We still need to surprise and delight, inform and entertain. The challenge is to use our scale and talent to fuse hard data metrics with outstanding creativity. Media agencies are in a pivotal position to make this happen: we are already doing it.

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