Media-Agency Reviews Signal Effort to Find Right Model in a Digital World

This Year's Shifts Aren't About Squeezing Savings, but Rather a Sign That in Current Landscape, Media Has Become a Crucial Piece of Puzzle

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There's been a flurry of media reviews this summer, but unlike the spate during recession-plagued 2009, this action has been less about driving down ad rates and agency fees and more about rethinking agency models and boosting efficiency through digital media.

"It's not about saving money," said Joanne Davis, president of Joanne Davis Consulting. It's about a dramatically different media landscape and marketers trying to figure out who should be handling their budgets. The dilemma of the moment: "Should digital sit with the media [agency] and [should] all money sit together or should digital media sit with a digital agency?"

Susan Thronson, senior VP-global marketing at Marriott International, which is currently reviewing and looking to consolidate its media agencies globally, said 50% of the company's marketing budget is being spent on digital. Of that , 80% is focused on the U.S., but she said that international digital spending will grow more quickly than U.S. spending in years to come.

As a result, the company is in talks with large global network shops, as well as digital shops such as AKQA, iCrossing, and Digitas.

"Not unlike many others, we see an opportunity to have a very strong strategic media relationship on a global basis," she said.

ExxonMobil is another marketer that 's changing its agency-review approach. For the first time, it's holding parallel creative and media reviews in which the creative and media winners don't need to be within the same holding company. It's an approach that 's likely less about creating cost efficiencies and more about finding the right mix and thinking. It also speaks to the rising influence of the media agency, independent of creative, in the digital era.

"That shift, in terms of how we're thinking about and moving from transactional toward relationship and engagement marketing, is at the essence of everything we're doing," said Lisa Colantuono, managing partner at search consultancy AAR Partners.

Clients aren't coming to the agency with a mandate to spend a certain amount on digital, said Horizon CEO Bill Koenigsberg. They're looking for strategic guidance.

"It's a combination of ... how do we navigate the new landscape, optimize spend and leverage assets in a fragmented marketplace?"

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