2015: The Year of Media and Creative Integration

The Integration Brings New Challenges for Agencies

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About year and a half ago ago, I predicted that 2014 would be the year of media and creative agency integration. With news breaking this month that Coke had included a creative agency, Ogilvy, in its media review, it would appear that this integration is indeed happening.

The truth, like always, is more nuanced.

There is a fundamental truth about the shift in our media universe: The formula for media effectiveness is no longer simply a calculation of reach and frequency. Marketers large and small must now consider a more complex equation of reach, frequency and impact. Not all eyeballs are created equal -- the impressions that matter most are those that actually make one.

The nuanced view is seen through that lens.

Media strategy requires creative thinking

Media strategy today must be holistic. To be effective, it cannot simply be focused on where to buy. Brands need to think about their customer's entire journey as it extends across paid, earned and owned channels. This is more than media strategy -- it's communications strategy. Big media shops are focused on paid media buying, which is now so commoditized that many brands think they can do it themselves.

Impact is the wild card. Achieving impact is as much art as it is science. Creative instinct is vital in determining when to put away the spreadsheets and take a calculated risk to achieve it.

Creative agencies cultivate creative talent. Creative agencies approach strategic planning based on an understanding of human nature. It sounds obvious to write it, but the creatives have a leg up when it comes to art.

This is why we're seeing a new split -- between media strategy and media buying.

Buying is a commodity -- strategy is not

In my column last year, I was dismissive of economies of scale. Programmatic would be the great equalizer. Creative agencies would be just as capable of executing buys as media-focused ones. In retrospect, I may have actually underestimated the impact of programmatic. It has made a large chunk of media buying so easy that brands are asking why they need a partner at all.

Last fall, I saw a panel during Advertising Week during which the CMO of Allstate Insurance told the audience that despite its long, valued relationship with its beloved agency, Starcom, it was bringing programmatic buying in-house.

If that is not representative of a devaluation of economies of scale, I do not know what is. With programmatic TV buying just around the corner, big media agency executives must be scared to death. Perhaps clients will find doing this work in-house is not so easy and the pendulum will swing back, but there will be bloodshed along the way.

Coke, on the other hand, is still working with the big media shops for scale. It isn't considering Ogilvy for all of its media buying -- just a piece of the account it is calling "Connections." As Ad Age reported, this assignment is "a version of communications planning and strategy." It's not too great a leap to conclude that "Connections" is where Coke intends to add impact to the media equation.

Understanding how to achieve impact (not just reach and frequency) is nowhere near as straightforward as using software or negotiating power to execute a buy. A new line has been drawn in the sand, but it's not between media and creative -- it's between strategy and buying.

No slam dunk for creative shops

This is not going to simply be a windfall for creative agencies. They will need to adapt.

At my agency, which historically has been creatively focused, we added a media and communications planning function three years ago. I don't know how we did business before it. Coming up with ideas without thinking through how those ideas will reach customers is dangerous business.

And while I'm glad we did it, it wasn't easy. We had to evolve how we think. Moreover, we had to evolve how we work. There's no sugar-coating it: Changing how you do things is hard.

Over cocktails at a conference a couple of years ago, the president of a media agency told me that of the 75 people working for him, only about five actually provided value to his clients. I'm sure the alcohol provided some fuel for hyperbole -- but perhaps those five people are what a media agency should be.

And perhaps, those five people should work at a creative shop.

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