How Media Agencies Can Stay Relevant in a Programmatic Age (Despite CMOs' Plans)

Offer a Holistic View That Puts All Marketing Options in the Best Context

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Better than half of CMOs surveyed by The CMO Club say they're looking to bypass media agencies in buying TV time using automated buying tech. Certainly, clients with mounds of customer data and direct-buying platforms could go direct to programmers. But should they? And how does the media agency stay relevant?

Ultimately, the data and technology supporting media will require more, not less, agency support. For one thing, you need a holistic view of brand marketing to put programmatic in the right context -- how much to do, where, when and why. For another, the non-programmatic elements of media will do more to make or break brands in a world where social media is a reflex. They're not so much impressions as conversations, where audiences committed to TV content stretch their interaction across all the screens they have.

Weaving brands into TV content and conversations is what agencies do best. They know the nuances of clients' strategies and products. They know how all of the media work and, more importantly, work together. They know how to turn this knowledge into partnerships with networks that can give a brand a place in consumer-generated conversations. That's why networks routinely come to agencies with creative ideas. Most importantly, agencies know how to balance this art with the science of media so clients sell more stuff. This power is the key to agencies standing taller than ever in TV.

How? It starts with content development that pulls together script integration, product placement, co-branded ads, interstitials, social media topicality, events, ITV and talent endorsement across screens. Agencies can concentrate their best minds on multiscreen development -- something programmatic can't do -- for every brand they advance. Think hybrid teams creating brand content that feeds the commitment audiences have to their favorite shows -- so they take it everywhere they go -- and the rise to leadership positions of people who get the full context of clients' businesses.

Then agencies will be structured for bigger, more targeted partnerships with programmers. Here's where it gets exciting. When machines process the routine elements of buying, agencies can devote more of their energy to the essential, creative job of activating consumers who are committed to particular programs. In other words, they can build a client a central role in the show experience that extends everywhere the mobile web takes the topic of TV. Fittingly, many programming networks are making multiscreen integrations standard because they see how activity on each screen feeds the others.

In the long run, programmatic buying should restore media agencies to the privileged position they've earned over decades, as the arbiters of consumer strategy and commitment. By focusing on a brand's need to sell more stuff in a complicated landscape, they'll assure that clients use the automating technologies where they make the most sense. They'll create the content that makes brands part of the best stories on TV. And they'll translate consumers' commitments to their favorite shows into deeper experiences, more trial and more sales for client brands.

Sean Cunningham is CEO of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau.

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