What Drives Media Decisions?

Are media buys driven by media plans, or are media plans driven by media buys? This was the question posed by ID Comms in a report published last month. When billions of dollars are exchanging hands, it’s an incredibly fair question for marketers to ask. While of course there is an obvious answer to the way it should be, those who work in advertising know that’s not always how it plays out.

The rise of digital media changed everything. Never before have brands and agencies had access to more information that could help inform and optimize their campaigns, or more levers to pull. Consumers have also never been more fragmented. The share of attention is divided across the media ecosystem, subscription streaming services have initiated a decline in some of the tried and true media vehicles, and as we all know from last week, third-party cookie depreciation and data privacy will continue to evolve how we can target consumers for the foreseeable future.

There has never been a time where media strategy was more important. I would also argue that there has never been a time where media strategy was treated as more of a commodity.

The unfortunate reality is that over the years, many agencies have allowed media services to become a commodity. They have neglected both the science and the art of the craft of media planning in favor of gaining clout, creating bulk publisher deals, moving dollars to undisclosed trading desks, or the worst thing, lazy reliance on outdated assumptions and tactics to keep service hours down.

If you aren’t innovating or driving towards business growth, it’s fair to be considered a commodity.

This isn’t completely the fault of the agencies. There was a race to the bottom fueled by the notion that whoever had the most impressive billings slide could buy the local morning news for a few cost-per-points cheaper. It didn’t matter if a smaller agency had a better relationship with that news station, or if another had the data to show the late news was better for the audience. Buy cheap…buy more…pray it works…grade the homework.

Many marketing procurement departments still want to grade their media agencies on always being “cheaper”, but still expect to have more offerings, senior level talent, new tools and low fees…therein lies the economic challenge of the media agency business model.

So how do we fix this? Well, it starts with setting clear expectations for what you want your agency to deliver. Do you want cheap, do you want strategic, do you want fast?

Some brands have the luxury of large marketing departments and truly need an execution partner, and in those cases, volume media discounts and guarantees may be the right place to put emphasis. While that may work for the P&G’s of the world, that does not work for the majority of mid-sized companies or regional brands. Those brands need an extension of their team, a true partner, who is willing to roll up their sleeves and take delivering results personally. They need a partner who is held accountable to delivering results, and they need to be willing to pay for it.

If media agency KPIs are attributed to driving business results, and they are successful, then isn’t paying a modest premium on fees worth it? It’s a small price to pay for the greater value of the work.

The good news for marketers is that there are a lot of great agencies out there to do this. It’s really about finding the right fit. The answer isn’t about the size of the agency, or the holding company, or the brand — it’s about the right team and their access to the right information.

  • The right media team takes the time to understand the dynamics of the brand, of the marketplace, the insights of their customer.
  • The right media team has access to the right data (consumer, media, geo, marketplace) and can help clients gain more marketing value out of their own data.
  • The right media team are experts at activating across all publishers and platforms. They are current on trends, and take thought leadership on what is coming.
  • The right media team respects the creative partner, the role of the right message, and the role of culture. They emphasize collaboration to bring campaigns to life and hold them accountable.
  • The right media team is transparent. “This is what we do, this is how we do it, this is how we make money, this is why it’s worth the investment”. If you can’t trust the partner who you are investing millions of dollars with, you are probably with the wrong partner.
  • The right media team has a clear understanding of the big picture objectives, but also knows how to measure across all of the key touch-points of the customer journey so that all marketing efforts are driving towards it.

It’s a fair question to ask, but the right media team let’s strategy drive buying decisions. It’s the only way to move beyond the role of commodity to the role of consultant.

If you’d like to speak to an agency that follows this model, give True Media a call.