Can Media Agencies Become the New Don Drapers and Rule Madison Avenue?
March 16, 2014
With the 4A’s annual meeting taking place this week, and the ANA Media Leadership meeting about to take place, this is as good a time as any to assess the state of the media agencies.
This is a significant time for media agencies. The sun is setting on the days in which copywriters and art directors rule Madison Avenue, and media agencies are now in the ascendancy. The Don Drapers of the world did rule, but no longer. It’s much more balanced now.
Media practitioners started blossoming in the 1930s. The soap company Procter & Gamble PG +0.13% was the first to sponsor a number of radio dramas, which we know today as soap operas. Starting in the 1950s soap operas became a staple of daytime television. Along with game shows, reruns of situation comedies, and talk shows, the soap opera was a fixture in the American broadcast networks’ daytime schedules. Media departments in ad agencies were closely involved in producing the shows for their clients, hiring the talent, and of course, placing the ads.
However, even as media consumption became a bigger part of America’s life, the importance of the media department was declining.
The disconnect between media and creative people came around the late 1980s to the early 1990s, when the creatives “forgot” the importance of media and thus diminished its role in brand stewardship. This led media departments to branch off and start their own planning and buying agencies, as they felt undervalued.
Ironically, the lines of specialization while separate, are becoming bleary today. The media agencies want to do more with content, and creative agencies are relying more on analytics and Big Data.
However, at first, after the unbundling of media from creative, media agencies were not viewed as strategic partners of marketers because they did not take advantage of applying their knowledge to brand stewardship. They also abdicated the chance of seizing leadership of new technology as their currency, and instead allowed digital agencies to upstage them in that area. They were still behaving as though everything had stayed the same as before the split.
Media remained too reliant on TV. Big discounted deals secured in TV’s annual upfront negotiations keep media agencies’ approach to clients’ budgets unoriginal and less relevant in a communication channel with a declining audience.
The system of reviewing a publisher’s click-through rate based on past campaigns, to determine if it is fit for booking a new campaign, is equally archaic. Ad content that previously worked, or did not work, on a publisher’s network could behave differently the next time. Audiences respond to an ad’s creative and to how they discover it, not to the brand behind the ad.
Media agencies have been built to give strictly narrow media recommendations. They’re very good at responding to a client’s need and delivering audiences. The big shifts they need to undergo are moving from being media-facing to consumer facing and start with studying how a consumer interacts with and uses media.
The future of media agencies will be determined by how well they can guide marketers through an ever-complicated marketing world, not just the media world. Responding to that challenge represents a huge shift for agencies that have been experts in buying time on TV, but with a few exceptions, don’t have nearly as much experience in giving strategic, consumer-centric counsel.
Media agencies that survive and thrive will need to completely re-invent how they work in order to clearly and consistently add value to their clients’ businesses and drive sales in a world that moves at the speed of technology.
"Can Media Agencies Become the New Don Drapers and Rule Madison Avenue?" Avidan Strategies, 2014.
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