Are Traditional Media-Planning Jobs Going the Way of the Dinosaurs?

Basics Q&A: Living on 'Legacy Content and Going Out to Lunch' Won't Last

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In the past few years AKQA -- the digital agency that 's now part of WPP Group -- has focused on creating digital media products with its clients, like the interactive catalog it built for Gap earlier this year and the Kinect training program it made with Nike .

Scott Symonds, managing director-media at AKQA
Scott Symonds, managing director-media at AKQA

Scott Symonds, managing director-media at AKQA, explained how media planning is yielding very nontraditional work and what that means for the careers of media planners. "The idea of negotiating over lunch for a rate for a bunch of undifferentiated impressions is old-fashioned," Mr. Symonds said.

Advertising Age: Can you dive into an example of work in the last year where you actively helped develop a new product?

Scott Symonds: With the Gap catalog, we basically turned a media plan into a product, with a digital catalog that wasn't just styled by the brand but by real trendsetters and fashion bloggers with the brand support to choose the styles. So rather than trying to push out a message, we create something distributed instead.

Ad Age : What have you learned from these projects?

Mr. Symonds: The driving force is the strategic insight. For Gap, the brand wanted to regain style authority and positive trendiness ... and Gap needed a way to rediscover it. So we thought, what if we could turn the media buy into something bigger like a catalog?

If we did this five years ago, it would have been an integrated sponsorship. Now, the rise of social has created this awareness of sharing control of your brand with those supporters and evangelists. It doesn't mean every brand has to let go of control, but it does mean you need to figure out your "distributed" position and how to work with brand evangelists positively.

Ad Age : How does this sort of product development fit as media?

Mr. Symonds: It's classic media in the sense that it's a brand message and deliberately put on a targeted placement where we find our target audience and reach.

Ad Age : How and why has product development become part of your business?

Mr. Symonds: In some ways, it just seems inevitable. It's kind of how marketing is moving and it's an extension of what's happening with consumer engagement, and digital is more than a medium for supporting a message. So the idea of evolving a media plan into something more like a product or a data-management platform that sits behind a website feels like a fairly natural evolution for a digital shop.

Ad Age : What does this transition to more product development say about the future of media buys?

Mr. Symonds: There are two different directions media is going on. One is toward very bespoke, creative and customized opportunities to create a bigger plan, product, catalog, app.

Then you also have programmatic buying, which isn't just remnant or low cost. You can integrate analytics and data and create this incredibly nuanced audience targeting. So our overarching goal is to create a more personalized, predictive experience and more dynamic creative. But the pressure is on in the middle of media planning and buying -- the mediocre banners and CPMs. You want to do what can be evolved and find ways to take advantage of technology, whether in real-time bidding or creating something incredibly personalized. The idea of negotiating over lunch for a rate for a bunch of undifferentiated impressions is old-fashioned.

Ad Age : Should young media buyers worry that their jobs planning where to place media are unnecessary?

Mr. Symonds: If you're traditionally minded and like legacy content and going out to lunch, that 's not going to be around much longer. We want more than digital fluency. We want data science and technology natives who daydream of these combinations.

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