Why More Media Companies and Agencies Should Guarantee Ad Results

It's About Creativity, Not Just Pleasing Budget-Minded Procurement Officers

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Ladies' Home Journal publisher Meredith this week said it will promise some of its biggest advertisers that major ad campaigns in its magazines will achieve certain sales results. It's time to see more of this -- and not only to please the procurement officers squeezing major marketers' budgets.

It's true, of course, that clients want to see the real results of their ad spending. And emphasizing analytics can seem like just another way for agencies to push media partners' prices lower.

But from our standpoint, sophisticated technology and advanced analytic infrastructures also help inspire more creativity. Knowing which portions of our investments work can give us all the freedom to take greater risks.

The bottom line is that chief marketing officers should be able to experiment as much as their colleagues in the corporate suite do. Chief financial officers and chief operating officers' significant improvements in forecasting and financial controls have allowed them to assume more risk -- backed by plans that allow them to react appropriately in much quicker time frames. Chief investment officers have gone from being cost centers to strategic weapons, with research and development teams equipping their organizations to be smarter and more efficient. Each of these disciplines has become more flexible and quantitatively accountable. We can do the same. When we do, we will free ourselves to be more creative than ever before.

If we want to experience a creative renaissance and give our client partners the confidence to experiment, agencies and media owners must be willing to measure more and be willing to be compensated based on performance.

For some, I realize this may appear downright crazy. And if you lack the measurement tools, the confidence in your ability to deliver, or the trust of your partners, then it may be a crazy ask. But for those of us with the right structure in place, we will be able to deliver and earn more value, not less.

There are some -- OK, many -- that fear change. However, if there was no fear, we would not be pushing hard enough. Rather than letting fear stop us, it should inspire us to experiment with new approaches that prove which advertising is most profitable, so we can be more creative in our efforts.

In the end, everything we do must be aligned against the business outcomes that matter: sales and share. To set creativity free, we must all transform in both mindset and practice. Here are my suggestions:

  • Partner up. A partnership is not a contract; it is a commitment to re-create the future. It is about resource sharing, building new systems and customizing your approach -- one partner at a time. Find a partner you trust and push each other beyond your comfort zones. Most important, learn from the pain points along the way, and soon enough you will watch traditional benchmarks fade away.

  • Embrace precision. Plan, execute and measure, measure, measure. Ensure that your strategies and analytics will lead directly to desired business outcomes. Stay focused (note: shiny objects can be distracting). Embrace the precision and accountability that clients and procurement partners demand.

  • Be open-minded. Invest in new mindsets, not just new talent. Encourage a new breed of thinkers who are unafraid and who will thrive in situations where results matter. Business transformation should harness the brilliance of the curious mind. Allow a new mindset to drive us to the one thing we have been asking for all along: accountability.

  • Be creative. Find new ways to work with media owners. Find new ways to get brands in front of people. Encourage your clients to partner with each other on marketing efforts. Bring media owners together to bring big ideas to life. Collaborate and invent.

What we do is not an illusion. We are not magicians; we are curious business people in a dynamic industry. Our hard work requires deep insights, hard analysis and creative thought. Great marketing gets actionable results. Appreciate the work and stand behind it. With fear comes the certainty that you are trying something different -- and that is transformative.

Jacki Kelly is global CEO of Universal McCann. She was previously UM's president of North America. She came to UM from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, where she served as exec VP-media sales, and earlier held posts at Yahoo and USA Today.
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