Gone are the days when brands hired media agencies to get them better rates. In fact, rates are just one of many things a media agency can help you get. Fast forward to 2018 when internet advertising is 25-50 per cent of brand marketing budgets.
Earned and Owned Media
Media Planning and Buying is among the many things the internet has redefined. Media wasn't 'mass' when it all began. The industrial revolution brought with it the printing press, mass circulation of news, radio waves and later, TV broadcasting. The internet brought back two-way communication (at a scale we couldn't imagine before) and 'mass' media is 'personalised' now. This rare evolution has brought with it Earned Media that is free - created by the same consumers who ultimately consume the communication. Some of the world's largest corporations Facebook/ Twitter/ LinkedIn/ Uber/ Airbnb and so many others, don't own any content/ assets - they are all part of a 'Sharing Economy'. They just crowdsource content or provide a marketplace for like-minded people/ corporations.
Traditional mass media, as we know it, has sustained and flourished with an advertising-funded model. In the recent past, some of the world's largest marketers have affected massive ad budget cuts and affirmed it has had 'no effect' on their brands. They have focused on growing Earned and Owned media impressions to compensate for Paid media impressions.
The above is just one of the many forces affecting the advertising led marketing model. And whatever affects the marketing industry, affects the traditional ad/ media agencies.
Media agencies are helping marketers connect brand business goals to marketing communication KPIs. By assigning roles/ KPIs to each medium towards achieving a brand goal, Communications Planning (Comms Planning) builds a context for each communication discipline in a Brand Communication Architecture. For example, the Comms Planner assigns roles/ KPIs to PR, Advertising, Events, Sponsorships, Shop Activation, POS etc. towards achieving a brand KPI. (S)he helps plan budgets and activities for all disciplines. With an ability to derive insights from data combined with new capabilities in qualitative research/ human insights/ content creation; media agencies are aspiring to be Comms Planning Agencies, invited earlier than creative agencies into the communication development process.
Fund Managers for brands
Call it Comms Planning or simply the need of the hour (to manage brand investments among a wide array of TV channels, thousands of websites and similar fragmentation in Radio, Print, Outdoor, and other media); the media agency must now become the Fund Manager to Brands, evaluating and investing from among a range of 'media' options.
The definition of 'media' itself has changed from mass media to anything that can help brands have a conversation/ interaction with a consumer.
ROI (Return on Investment)
Media agencies have traditionally managed client ATL budgets. When marketing needed ROI questions are answered, they relied on media agencies to provide the expertise/ tools to lead the process. As Comms Planners/ Fund Managers, ROI is at the root of all investment decisions and hence, media agencies are well placed to be Fund Managers for brand investments.
The new definition of 'media'
Sports have penetrated the hinterland (and media has helped in a big way), grown in stature, innovated into leagues/ newer formats with live telecasts; TV has built sports into a major new industry. The Fund Manager isn't only planning/ buying spots on an India cricket match. With a fixed sum of money to invest on behalf of a brand, (s)he is evaluating between a central sponsorship and a regional sponsorship (in a league format), between a kit branding and a logo on a player's chest, between team A vs team B or simply putting the brand story on air (TVC). Even for on-air visibility, (s)he has so many options: sponsorships, live vs non-live (studio shows during a break in play), on-screen innovations... the list is endless.
Entertainment is the other big attraction for audiences and media agencies now have teams who can work with Bollywood, Tollywood and the many other film industries building brand integrations from in-film placements to full-length feature films in partnership with brands. This partnership with the film/ TV industry has helped produce Branded Content at a scale previously unimaginable.
Celebrity endorsements are a natural extension of the growing interplay between sports/ entertainment/ celebrity influencers and brands. Media planners have come to build competence in this area too.
At a time when consumers have a way to voice their opinions, engage with celebrities/ brands online and spread good/ bad news about brands on social media, Online Reputation Management (ORM) is another major area of intervention media planners have grown to learn. Social Listening and ORM are nothing but PR in a Digital avatar.
With active consumers and parity brands, going beyond static/ one-way communication plans (TV/ Print ads) to build Experiential media plans (engaging/ experiencing brands) has been the logical next step for many years now. Sometimes 'engagement + amplification' is best achieved through event associations. Activation and Event Management capabilities at media agencies have addressed these need gaps.
Digital marketing - beyond the 'media-creative' divide
Earned/ Owned Media have changed the investment narrative. Content (traditionally the remit of creative agencies) needs to now be mastered if the agency partner must deliver the complete digital marketing capability to a brand. Multiple other specializations within digital (mobile, social, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, influencer marketing, content marketing, online video etc.) for last mile delivery; digital data analytics for ROI on Impressions/ Clicks/ Views/ Shares/ Likes/ Leads... the growing needs of the digital medium is dictating the growing need for newer capabilities at a media agency.
If media agencies want to be Fund Managers/ Comms Planners, they must develop all the above capabilities and more. If they don't, they will remain TV buying dinosaurs that propagate the myth that media agencies are all about rates. As a first step towards this, we must ask many questions and consider the multitude of possibilities before giving advice.
Questions we must ask
1. Do we need to buy in the first place? Media buying isn't an end by itself. Space/ time are bought when the business/ marketing/ communication context requires a certain investment. When the brand's interest is at the core of everything that an agency does, media spend (buying) isn't their agenda.
2. Have we explored owned/ earned/ shared media before looking at Paid media?
3. If buy we must, what data support are we providing to the Buyer, so (s)he isn't just benchmarking on prevailing prices/ price benchmarks? For example, Input vs Output in marketing spends and comparison across time for each/ competing media vehicles. Also, Cross-media price/ cost per contact benchmarks.
4. How is the investment in media mapping against current business/ future expected business?
Do you still think a media agency is all about rates?
(The author is co-founder and managing director, Mediant Communications, a new-age media and communications agency)