Brands: Don't Take the Easy Way Out by Launching a Media Review

Six Harder But More Effective Ways to Reassess Your Media Strategy

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The recent spate of media agency reviews has sparked a dramatic new term to describe it -- and no shortage of speculation from industry experts on what's driving the searches.

On the list of theories are transparency woes, marketer cost-cutting, viewability concerns, and the move to programmatic buying. Sir Martin Sorrell is the one who got it right. While in Cannes last month, the leader of the world's largest ad holding company, WPP, offered his opinion that above all, marketers are confused. While I haven't agreed with him on much in the past, his observation in this case feels spot-on. The media landscape is so dizzyingly fragmented that any marketer would feel less certain about their go-forward strategy.

Still, we don't need another pundit theorizing on the reasons behind "reviewmaggedon." So instead, I'll just beg for brands to stop. From where I sit, there's no way that all reviews are truly warranted.

Trends in adland are typically pile-on; marketers see their competitors engaging in one behavior and think there is a magic answer out there. I believe that rather than doing the far-harder work of recalibrating with their media agency partners and other advisors, brands are throwing their hands in the air -- and their hard work to date away -- in the hopes of starting over.

Having spent a lot of time evaluating media decisions for brands like Verizon, J.P. Morgan Chase and Crayola earlier in my career at bigger agencies, it's clear to me now that there's simply not enough appetite for testing approaches. Reviews are so expensive and disruptive. Especially in such a complex media environment, it doesn't make sense to scrap a whole media strategy; instead, you should be set up to continually be beta-testing to see what resonates with consumers.

Although we talk a lot about moving to a more "agile" and "iterative" process in the ad world, much of the focus is on the creative product. In reality, being able to test and experiment with media is more important now than ever. Consider how much has changed -- some of the best media content out there today is ad-free programming, like shows on HBO and Netflix. At a time when we know that consumers are willing to actually pay to get rid of advertising, it's critical for all brands to take the time to reassess their whole media strategy, not just their outside media partners. Here are six steps brands can take:

1. Get a consensus on what your definition of a media strategy is today. Most people have very different definitions, providing conflicting direction and ultimately disappointment all around. Is your strategy centered around placing ads in media? Or is it around brand engagement?

2. Decide who should be a decision maker. Determine who the key stakeholders are that should make decisions about media strategy.

3. Put your heads together and get on the same page. Agree on how your team should be structured, evaluated and compensated in order to get the most out of any media strategy and agency instead of the reverse.

4. Don't think about "where to put your message." Instead, think about what you can do to help your brand gain more affinity, loyalty and love. Start with what the people you're targeting really care about and then figure out ways to just give that to them instead. In other words, if your target audience loves music, don't put your ad in the middle of the music-listening experience; just figure out how you can give them music and they will appreciate you more. Maybe you should think about "What can we give people?" instead of "Where should we put our message?"

5. Relatedly, maybe you should consider whether you have way too much "messaging" space. It's not about getting more media space for less or trying to get more messages (ads) out of your agency. The holy grail today is knowing what your core audience gives a shit about and giving it to them in a way that brings your brand message to life.

6. Lean on your partners -- don't fire them. The fact that the media landscape is changing should not solely be the burden of a media agency, with the brand kicking back and evaluating their performance. It should be figured out together in partnership. The reality is, nobody has the right answer. The only way to get there is to work in true partnership.

Brands should take a step back to ask a much more critical set of questions about media strategy. It's a lot easier to get everyone to agree to do a media review than it is to take a deep look at how you and your organization views, chooses and evaluates effective media today and into tomorrow.

There are a multitude of channels to choose from and the list is growing each day. That means there's no silver bullet for how to bring your brand to life. Keep calm and experiment. There will be hits and misses. But if you can get comfortable with the fact that not every single effort will deliver the ROI you'd like, you and your agencies will succeed today and can plan for the future by being stronger together.

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