With $25 Billion Up for Grabs, Media Agencies Need to Change

Agencies Can No Longer Ignore Client Needs

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The last six months have seen at least 20 large companies calling media reviews, with a total of $25 billion in media dollars on the line. We're even seeing creative agencies swoop in, yet few can agree on what's driving the surge.

It's a Rorschach test of sorts -- what we believe is driving the change depends on how we see the industry. Some assume it's just the ever-present act of cost-cutting, while others think it reflects transparency issues. As a person tasked with driving change and innovation at a forward-thinking media agency, I see it clearly as a sign that our clients are facing the most profound, rapid changes they've ever known, but face a sea of agencies ignoring their needs and holding onto the past.

We're a few weeks away from Cannes, our industry's annual celebration of the niche, unambitious application of creativity: the endless use of drones, the hopeful user-generated content, the hopeless iBeacons, the 3D printed trinkets and conceptual vending machines. It's our chance to reward test-and-learns while our clients face real threats. Never before has the disconnect between their needs and our solutions been greater.

While our industry overlays Pharrell onto case study videos, our clients face a world of incredible new possibilities, of accelerating change, of uncertainty and of sweeping new threats. I believe it's the confident navigation through these changing times that clients need the most.

Our role as media agencies should become more ambitious -- to move from helping our clients buy media to helping them solve business problems; to shift from facing the industry to facing real people; to become stewards through the uncertainty; to know what is changing and what is staying the same; and to unleash the power of new technology to transform our clients' businesses.

It's a big change in mindset, but it's what is required. Here are just some of the problems I typically hear about that demonstrate how we need to change.

Accelerating change
Things have never been so fast before, but will never be so slow again -- from changing TV viewing habits, to apps that explode and die in weeks, to real-time marketing. Clients want to know what's next, what is dead, what is changing, and even more importantly, what isn't and how can they test and learn to maximize learnings and reduce risk. This calls for agencies to operate in a fundamentally different way -- to keep their finger on the pulse, be agile and ready to change. Agencies need to be structured differently, to operate with an entrepreneurial culture and to employ new talent to keep a view on what lies ahead.

New media consumption
From desktop to tablet to mobile, we're moving to the smallest screens we've ever known and ones that are measurably the hardest places to connect with consumers. If money should follow time spent with media, but mobile ads struggle to move dials, then we need to work hard to resolve this tension. The opportunities on mobile are incredible -- it's our wallet, our social graph, how we navigate the world, where we buy things and where we find key information. Clients need help unleashing the potential of the most personal devices we've ever known.

Less big data, more clear insights
Everybody talks about big data, but few talk about the results of it. We need to move from big data to clearer insights and to help clients do more with what they have. Big data places new demands on media agencies: They need to clean data better, learn how to work across data systems, structure processes to maximize learnings and above all else, define metrics that matter. Clients need leadership in serious data analysis, less rhetoric and more insights.

The future is now
Clients need media agencies that can move their focal point further into the future; to go from being agile to anticipatory; to blend media, creative and technology together; and to go from the act of buying media to solving business problems. They need people to understand wearables, advise on VR, put into place mobile coupons and get a grip on what WhatsApp or Line or We Chat or Viber can mean. We need to unleash the opportunities of ads with "buy now" or addressable TV or any one of a thousand tantalizing new opportunities on the horizon.

The change to digital media has caused structural issues in the entire world of advertising. We're arranged around channels in a world where the internet makes them irrelevant. We're spending more and more time in places demonstrably harder to connect in. At Havas Media, I would like to think we've begun to make some of these changes. All agencies need to find ways to solve the problems of tomorrow, so the question is, what is your agency doing -- after Cannes?

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