George Patten
Dec 23, 2015

2016: Media buying will get harder

Marketers and agencies need to grasp tools and tech to keep up with media, writes Accenture's George Patten.

Objective metrics and client engagement are key to successful media buying
Objective metrics and client engagement are key to successful media buying

While media is typically the largest single marketing expenditure, few marketers have a firm grasp of how their investments have performed. Marketers are also unsure whether the agency recommending and making the purchase has delivered real value. All this serves to make makes buying media effectively and efficiently an ongoing challenge. 

The truth is, media buying has become vastly more complex, fragmented and costly in recent years. The quality, as well as the cost, of media inventory purchases is under increasing scrutiny. 

Marketers are under pressure to figure out how to utilise technology to automate buying processes and, as a result, how to add value and ensure transparency in planning, buying and measurement. 

There remains tremendous uncertainty and difficulty in media buys as few marketers are completely sure of what they are getting. 

For example, when authorising purchases in unfamiliar geographic regions and quantifying promised reach and impressions. In our view, companies making large-scale media buys—especially in multiple markets—need better tools for making media decisions, for monitoring the execution of media buys and for evaluating the cost and the effectiveness of those purchases versus other alternatives. 

Analytics, automation and other innovative technologies can provide needed insights, but relatively few companies have been able to take full advantage of these capabilities. 

As marketers lay out plans and budgets for 2016, we see four major elements that are essential for capturing full value from media expenditures:

Transparency. Marketers are entitled to full value for their money. They need to know that airtime and impressions are delivered as promised. If agencies receive payments or other benefits from the media, clients should receive the benefit of such payments as appropriate. Marketers, on the other hand,  need to pay proper prices for media space, especially as expenditures reach hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.  

Attribution. Marketers need to know what is and what is not working. This is especially important as agencies move into digital and programmatic buying. Claims for programmatic in particular need better validation and documentation.  

Content. As ‘old media’ loses some of its grip, marketers need to be smarter about how to reach their consumers and understand the best ways to do so. Exploring new avenues, however, raises transparency and value concerns, as agencies charge much higher fees for this kind of work.  Clients need a good understanding of how value is delivered when new content is involved.  

Technology. Media buying in the digital age is far too complex for analysis by calculator or spreadsheet. Clients need access to sophisticated modelling and analytics, as well as input from massive databases on global media costs and impressions. Similarly, digital advertising verification can help marketers confirm purchases on a real-time basis.


To thrive in the year ahead,  industry needs to acknowledge that media has grown into a highly specialised discipline that requires training and deep expertise to challenge and guide agencies to deliver the best outputs. 

Ideally, the partnership between client and agency reflects this reality and is based on a mutual understanding of the client’s communications objectives. Both parties should also agree on the measure of success, the composition of the target audience, and the overall creative approach.  

With this foundation in place, the focus can shift to more tactical concerns. This includes the optimal media mix, the role of each medium and the desired seasonality and timing of purchases. Along with innovative ideas aimed at gaining the attention of consumers, the plan should be able to tackle necessary reach and frequency levels. 

At an even more granular level, the client should be familiar with the agency’s strategy for negotiation with media partners, the mechanism for measuring and tracking delivery, and how the plan balances cost and quality. The agency should be able to identify the inflation factors for each medium and each market and how to negotiate them. 

Marketers with a strong grasp of media strategy, who have the resources to evaluate plans in detail and to implement needed process improvements, can realise significant savings on media expenditures while maximising the reach and impact of their campaigns. 

For example, a large client making media purchases in more than 40 markets was able to save over US$40 million per year on a $1 billion-plus budget by reducing waste, improving verification and enhancing client-agency processes. 

Whether the needed expertise is available in-house or purchased ‘as a service’ from a trusted third party, the combination of objectivity, technological sophistication and strategic insight can deliver significant benefits for marketers worldwide.  

George Patten is managing director and global lead for media management at Accenture

The 4th annual Media360Summit, taking place on 25 February in Hong Kong, will bring together the most senior global players in the industry in a forum of excitement, debate and challenging discussion.

Giants from within the industry and inspirational figures from outside will motivate, educate and entertain our exclusive audience on 2016’s newly-introduced main stage. Simultaneously, Campaign will run a number of closed door master-classes, led by industry experts, which will help you navigate through media’s most pressing challenges.

For complete information please see


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