Media Agencies in Danger of Becoming Obstacles, Not Enablers

Siloed Planners and Buyers Are Lost in a Platform-Neutral World

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Exhibit A: An off-the-record drink with a TV sales chief. He tells me he's putting together multi-media packages for several major marketers. Those packages include spots, online video ads, magazine ads, a custom-publishing play, complex event sponsorships and wireless phone deals -- including a revenue sharing arrangement on a TV show call-in. I ask him how he gets those kinds of deals on a marketer's media plan. His answer: You "have to go direct to the client," because a TV planner or buyer -- the types with whom he typically dealt -- just can't "get it done."
One-track planners and buyers no longer fit a multiple track media world.
One-track planners and buyers no longer fit a multiple track media world.

Exhibit B: An off-the-record coffee with a magazine publisher. The conversation turns to the packages she's building for marketers looking to bombard/build a relationship with -- delete depending on your level of cynicism -- her core readership demographic. She's trying to deliver that connection for those advertisers via a multi-media package: Again, events, wireless, e-mail and Web properties play a part as well as the magazine. Just a couple of hitches, she says. Firstly, she can't monetize many of the add-ons, and secondly, she has trouble selling them to the print media directors with whom she's dealt historically.

There are plenty more examples where those came from. But, by now, you probably get the point: Media agencies, potentially the best and most important partners a marketer can have in today's increasingly complex media world, are in danger of becoming an obstacle to the right deals rather than an enabler.

Media owners are slowly but surely recreating their channel-defined media properties and turning them into platform-neutral brands that connect with a certain type of audience. Brands like This Old House and ESPN are the most frequently quoted leaders in the field, but almost every media owner today is attempting some form of multi-platform connection with its audience. And it's no longer a trend restricted to those cablers or interest-focused magazines with an obviously defined demographic or psychographic. Fox, for example, is going into the TV upfront pitching "Generation Fox," a cross-media ad package designed to enable marketers to connect with 12-to-24-year-olds.

The way such media owners are restructuring reflects the way their audiences consume media, which is a lot less about the channel and a lot more about the brand promise. By putting the consumer at the center of their models, they are also, of course, trying to give marketers what most would say they're looking for -- a relationship with a particular type of consumer, or, even, the chance to be part of a community of their consumers.

Yet many ad agencies, media agencies and even marketing departments are structured by medium. In Matt Creamer's recent story, "Don't Call it TV: Rebuilding for The Video Age," he reported on MediaVest's restructuring of its TV-buying teams into video investment and activation units, which he called a "bellwether" for the shift away from the box of the 30-second spot. He's right, but most of the other agencies are yet to follow MediaVest's lead.

It is bordering on derogation of duty for a marketer today to commit to a campaign that isn't integrated, particularly in terms of the way it marries offline components with the use of Web tools such as search and even online retail, yet many still start their years by parceling out budgets into media-by-media silos, sometimes even competing agencies, that often don't communicate, much less collaborate.

Those walls are going to have to be come down, and the planners and buyers who focus on one platform are going to have to broaden their expertise. It's spring and it's time for some renovation.
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