Media agencies: Making sense of it all

The right ads for the right consumers

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I thought I was born to work in advertising.

As a kid, I would roam the aisles on shopping trips, telling my parents exactly which products to buy. Sure, sometimes I was drawn to a shiny new product on the shelf, but it was usually the TV ads I'd seen that prompted my choices. Advertising was in my blood, and I began to dream of making the next great ad. Then I got to college and thought: If the right people don't see it then what's the point?

Enter media agencies.

So what do media agencies do?

Great question! Initially, media agencies were created with one main focus: to buy media space cheaper and more efficiently than ("creative") advertising agencies could. But efficiency proved to be only one half of the puzzle, so media agencies had to develop a deep knowledge of consumer behavior in order to deliver more effective strategies and plans.

Think of it this way: the role of a media agency is to put the right message in front of the right people, at the right time, in the right place. As a kid, if I was watching Saturday morning cartoons and saw a commercial for Depends instead of Lucky Charms, do you think I'd have been equally as inclined to tell my parents to buy them? Understanding a consumer's mindset at any single point in time is vital to what media agencies do.

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world

Ah, how we miss the simpler times. Making sense of how people interacted with media was so much easier when there were only a handful of media types (television, radio, print, outdoor) and a few channels or titles from which to choose. Then the Internet showed up and changed the game. Now we have the Internet of Things, and Cisco's prediction that 50 billion (with a b) devices will be connected by 2020.

In order to sort through the chaos, media agencies round out their understanding of consumers with two additional areas of expertise: knowing the media landscape better than anyone else, and developing relationships with media owners that can help deliver better results and ideas than anyone else. The agencies that marry these three skillsets are able to create successful media plans that leverage consumer behavior and mindset, connect the dots of a fragmented media landscape and bring new thinking to clients at a competitive superior cost.

Accountability is crucial

The work of a media agency doesn't stop with brilliant media planning and activation. Beyond ensuring that a plan is executed flawlessly, a media agency is also responsible for measuring the impact that media has on a client's overall business. Media agencies manage the lion share of a client's budget, so the ability to track results and keep clients out in front of new opportunities form the backbone of our business.

I once thought the only way to be creative in the advertising industry was to be the person actually creating the ads, but that was before I discovered that a career in media offers all kinds of opportunities to be creative. Determining when and where a person will be most receptive to a brand's message is a unique and exciting challenge for each client and each project. And with ever-evolving ways for people to interact with media and brands, there will always be something new (and fun) to learn and do.

About the Author

Zach Smith is an Associate Strategy Director at MediaCom. Since joining the team in 2010, Zach has helped lead strategic planning for key clients that include VW, Audi, and Shell. In addition to his day-to-day client responsibilities, he actively works to attract and cultivate a strong talent base at MediaCom. Prior to joining MediaCom, Zach spent time on the new business team at Optimedia, focusing on pharmaceutical, finance, alcohol/spirits, and technology categories. He also spent time on the planning team for Richemont, a family of luxury watch and jewelry companies including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and IWC. Zach is a graduate of Penn State University with a degree in advertising. In his free time, Zach spends his time writing and watching films.

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