The media agency landscape exists in a continuous state of flux. As the role of marketers and the habits of consumers shift almost weekly, so too must the agencies who connect them. But with new competitive overlap, the insatiable hunger for content and the increasing dominance of data, how are agencies differentiating themselves?
Consult for results
Media agencies now offer all sorts of value-adds, but a move toward a more consultative role—complete with a newly stuffed toolbox—is key.
“Consumers have become a lot less patient in terms of what they will tolerate,” says Stephen Li, APAC CEO, OMD. “Unless the message speaks to them from the get-go, their patience wears thin almost immediately. Our role as agencies is to help clients navigate and manage that.”
At OMD this has informed new positioning summed up by the mantra “Better Decisions, Faster”, something Li says was key to OMD’s global Daimler media account win in October. “It’s not about trying to outsmart everyone else with a key theme or key message that resonates across the entire organisation. It’s not about a specific decision [clients] need to make, but about every decision they need to make that impacts their marketing dollar—and there’s no time to hang around.”
Essence APAC CEO Kyoko Mastushita also sees this move towards a more consultative relationship. “The agency role has shifted from being a media buyer to being a group of experts who can give advice to clients in an upstream conversation about where their marketing dollars should go,” she says. “It’s about being more relevant and meaningful to the people you are targeting.”
Matsushita cites Olive, Essence’s automated campaign management platform, as part of this. “We worked with a client in Japan on a product launch and they didn’t have a lot of first-party data, so we aggregated all of the second- and third-party data into Olive along with their own data to unlock and identify patterns and behaviours of the types of consumers we wanted to target. We came out of that exercise with very targeted ways of communicating to these audiences at the right time and place, whether in transit from work to home or in a social scene.”
Additionally, Matsushita is seeing a thirst for knowledge around digital marketing from even the most reticent clients. “In this region, more than 40% of ad spend goes to digital. When the client is not yet there, but they know they need to start thinking about investing in digital to reach their audiences, they are starting to ask for training programmes—we do Programmatic 101, for example.”
Choreographing the content-data dance
Part of the shift towards consulting means agencies are turbo-boosting the two engines driving modern communications, content and data.
“Where I see the fundamental change is in the way media agencies are getting closer and closer to integrating the content with the data,” says Vishnu Mohan, CEO of Havas Group India and Southeast Asia CEO of Havas Media APAC. Havas is seeking to gain an edge on content with its now-embedded Vivendi assets: an example that stands out is a campaign for Dubai Tourism that saw the band Imagine Dragons integrate the city into a music video, ‘Thunder’, scoring 600 million views and US$20 million in media value.
“If you really want to dovetail the two and make every piece of content accountable and every piece of data magical through content, you’ve got to have a structure in place that facilitates that,” says Mohan, a reference to Havas’ ‘village’ approach, which has seen the agency fully integrate its disciplines.
“Marketing has a different influence on companies’ business today,” says APAC president Kasper Aakerlund. “If you want to be a trusted marketing consultancy partner you need to be able to connect all the different jobs and understand how you help businesses generate outcomes. Data is the one thing connecting through that full journey.”
Aakerlund sees media agencies having the edge over traditional consultants in this regard. “Once a consultancy agency has given their advice, they stop. But because of us understanding the touchpoints and our expertise in activating and executing the strategy, we have an advantage—being able to take the next step. Then we evaluate and start that whole journey again.”
The real value of the Acxiom acquisition may be the 2,000 data scientists that came along with it. All the agency CEOs agree: data specialists, along with strategic thinkers and people with a business intelligence background, will be crucial in delivering these new offerings.
Such talent is not only sought after by the advertising world but there are some pull factors in agencies’ favour. Gabriel Lam, a director at recruitment firm Michael Page Hong Kong, has spent the last five of his 10 years in recruitment servicing the advertising industry. “Digital talent is generally looking for something more exciting, with broad exposure,” he says. “Some of them are more interested in working on the agency side because working in-house usually comes with more restrictions. They also value work-life balance, so we see those up-and-coming, medium-size international agencies can attract talent because they have the flexibility, a decent client pool and the workload is not too heavy.”
Havas’ Mohan says that hiring from wider backgrounds is helping, though not alleviating, the scarcity problem. “The person could come from anywhere. It could be a client person, a media owner, a content creator. And the explosion of content is opening up a whole new field of talent. Existing talent might be scarce, but there is an influx of new talent coming in at an accelerated pace.”
All the agencies reference in-house training and upskilling, but will this really be enough to offset talent scarcity issues?
Lam says that in the past two years, his firm has been able to find more homegrown talent. “More corporates are investing in this landscape and as a result there is more specialist talent coming out in the market. In terms of future development, Google has been offering training in digital marketing that is open to all. Secondly, you see more and more subjects opening at universities regarding the two pillars of digital marketing and ecommerce management. It definitely helps from a training perspective but also in arousing the interest of other professionals to join the digital field.”
Aakerlund agrees. “We see many finance people, they were stock traders or analysts in the past, suddenly moving into marketing now and being able to deploy that.”
OMD’s Li is also optimistic about attracting talent from other fields. “We can train people to become agency people and quite honestly I think what’s harder is to train people to become the right kind of analytical, data-centric thinkers,” he says. “There are people sitting in software companies, for example, who are still perhaps seen as geeks at the back of the house. We agencies offer them a shot at getting some sun on their face.”
But is all this going to provide the talent required fast enough? According to Aakerlund, no. “There is a lack, and there will not be enough of them compared to how important it is for the future and therefore we as industry need to take responsibility to upskill and create that future talent,” he says.
May we also suggest the industry keeps working towards offering a better work-life balance and helping young talent craft an engaging—and long-lasting—career path so that once they come, they stay.
Continue the discussion at Campaign360
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