Iain Jacob
Oct 13, 2020

Media skills are undervalued and Byron Sharp is mistaken

Sharp's comments on digital media being easy to navigate do not match reality.

Media skills are undervalued and Byron Sharp is mistaken

"The online media world is incredibly simple now," Byron Sharp, author of How Brands Grow, declared in his recent Campaign interview. 

The marketing professor went on: "Google search takes half of all the [adspend] dollars. The other half is split between YouTube – which is essentially a big global TV station owned by Google – and all the print and display advertising is on Facebook, Instagram and Google's ad network. There's really not much left after that, other than traditional media sites such as TV, newspapers and magazines, which are now online."

Were Byron Sharp not so influential, this perspective might be dismissed as headline-grabbing hyperbole. 

Indeed, if it were as simple as Sharp described, ISBA and the WFA might not have felt compelled to launch their measurement standards initiative, with the WFA chief executive, Stephen Loerke stating: “Advertisers have long struggled with poor-quality data that doesn’t allow them to properly assess how best to invest their ad budgets across multiple platforms and media."

If it were so simple, the mighty Accenture, having publicly stated its intent to get into media via the programmatic door, might have made more impact on the media services market.

And that much-lauded disruptor, "in-housing", rather than just largely affecting creative services might have had more media-related headlines.

Executing a successful, compliant, competitive, well-measured media campaign has in fact never been harder.

So why is Sharp’s perspective still so broadly prevalent among many clients, commentators, purchasing professionals and, dare I say, even some agency leadership?

Here is a short story from the shop floor. I recently had the privilege of overseeing a media pitch for the LoveCinema campaign as Chair of Cinema First.

The decision panel consisted of the major film distributors and the major exhibitors. I know they would forgive me for describing them as a pretty tough bunch: experienced marketeers, experienced media practitioners, totally results-oriented.

Every holding company media division and independent media shop that was an incumbent of one of the panel was invited to pitch. They had one week to prepare their proposed approach and, for those that were shortlisted, two days to prepare a presentation. 

The responses across the board were exceptional. All reflected the fact that great media work is a mixture of art and science. The best navigated their way very smartly through the enormous complexity of different platforms, different content standards, different walled garden measurements.

All the presenting teams were energetic, diverse, smart, with astonishingly deep skill sets.

There has, of course, got to be a winner, and this time it was the Mediacom/Wavemaker team, but credit and respect go to all of the competitors.

There is a gaping chasm between the industry narrative and the reality for the passionate teams of media professionals working with great skill to create a real difference and competitive advantage in media.

The industry is doing a disservice to its smart and creative media community by not acting on this.

Much of the major advertising holding company leadership’s attention is diverted. Often, media services remain commercially valued, but strategically undervalued. Attention is on reviving incumbent agency services, building "new" consultancy and data muscles and, more recently, attempting to address accusations of ageism and a lack of diversity.

Meanwhile others, such as ISBA, feel the imperative to lead the change that is so badly needed. 

The media service divisions and the media independents are more diverse, have more female leadership and are more reflective of market realities than the majority of marketing service firms.

They can still be accused of being much younger than the average age of the UK workforce, but maybe this is the combined outcome of inappropriate commercial pressure imposed on them and the fact that as you approach 30, the realisation of being undervalued overtakes the excitement of being in an industry at the forefront of societal change.

This status quo and incumbency will not survive. The teams on the shop floor are too good to allow it. They will follow leaders that instil values and pride.

In pre-Covid days, Sir Martin Sorrell often talked about the value of a modern media service – both in a strategic and financial sense. As in so many areas of life, the Covid epidemic has served to accelerate change and reinforce what had already been clear for some while. We may well see some of his predictions arriving sooner than originally thought. 

In the meantime, we should be actively supporting and liberating the "shop floor" media talent that has so much to offer, so much value to give. While there is work to be done on the age profile and related experience of business, it is the younger workforce that is way more exposed to the terrible pressures that Covid has imposed. 

So, next time a client or commentator suggests that the media landscape is simple and the job is to divvy up a budget between Google, Facebook and some apparent also-rans, please remind them of the awful trouble such thinking got them into last time.

Somewhat preposterously, elsewhere in the interview Mr Sharp suggested that denying his marketing rules was akin to denying Newtonian laws.

Avoiding the temptation to explain that Newtonian laws do in fact break down when applied to the complexity of sub-atomic physics, I will simply match his suggestion with a quote from Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Iain Jacob is chair of Cinema First and UKOM. He is a former EMEA chief executive of Publicis Media

Campaign UK

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