Are these the end times of the traditional media agency?

  • Media
  • June 25, 2014
  • Alex Lawson
Are these the end times of the traditional media agency?

Start the day with a breakfast, at the very least roll in at 9.30am hungover with coffee and sausage roll in hand, book the client’s TV campaign, chuck the leftover budget at print and outdoor and let them fight over the scraps. Fag break with another coffee, quick meeting with some junior sales rep desperate to get you to book some space in Caravanners World or something, then confirm the radio campaign that uses the audio from the TVC before off to lunch at somewhere like Cibo or Antoine’s, do a year’s deal on the back of a fag packet, don’t bother to come back once the third bottle of red gets opened … and repeat!

Some will say that those were the days, some will say that those were the bad old days, and some (myself included) will feel just a little sad that they didn’t get to experience a little of those bad old days properly.

But what is today’s media agency life like? Today we’re all in by 8.30am (many times earlier) and often still in the office past 6pm or 7pm, with many of us logging back in during the evenings or staying connected with mobile phones. There’s still the odd lunch of course, still a hangover to deal with along the way but it’s a very different world now. Client meetings dominate, instant responses are expected to briefs or requests, a plethora of suppliers all trying to get 30 minutes of your time and at some point you have to find time to do your actual work.

It’s a long way from the halcyon days of the 30-second spot being king of the world and every campaign decision starting with how much of the budget should be apportioned to TV – although some clients, brands and agencies are still clinging to it as hard as they can.

Improvements in audience measurement and accountability drove a revolution to consumer behaviour and insight driving campaign delivery, then the Internet came along and completely revolutionised how and where we talk to consumers, and how they can talk back or about us.

We’ve seen the uncoupling of creative and media agencies, although the full-service model still has fans in New Zealand, emergence of individual strategy agencies, digital agencies, SEO- and SEM-only agencies, sponsorship agencies and a few more that could be mentioned as well that came and went quickly. The 2000s felt somewhat like the boom and bust dotcom era with new models and agency types springing up and disappearing with the same speed.

With the emergence of channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, the role of the traditional media agency is being challenged, changing and by some predicted to crumble completely. Why do you need a media agency now that everything can go out digitally and for free?

So, are we all doomed? Are we about to implode in a cloud of fragmentation and start fighting like starving hyenas on the tiny bits of business that will float around when paid media and the existing agency dies? Well, no, I don’t think so.

If anything, I think that the traditional media agency model is about to get stronger, revitalise and go through a mini boom all of its own …I f we can adapt and change as we need to.

The first step of the media agency revolution, which many of us have been pushing for a little while now and is being championed on a global level by ZenithOptimedia, is to move to an “Owned First” model of communications planning. We know from our own owned asset, the Touchpoints Tracker ROI tool that a brand’s owned channels and assets are up to an average of 30 percent more influential than any paid media channel.

Today’s consumers have the tools to question claims, investigate and research products on their own and get access to thousands of actual consumer or professional reviews of products prior to purchasing for themselves. The days of the only information for a new TV being in your ad copy or coming from the salesman or marketing brochure are long gone. The consumer values positive brand experiences be it from those reviews or the experience they get from when they interact with you in your owned assets; your website, packaging, store, staff or social channels. It’s the most powerful connection a brand can have with its consumers and too often it’s placed well down the pecking order.

Paid media is not, as many would like to think however, dead or dying by any means with this approach. You can’t sell a secret as I was told in my sales days, and getting the attention that your owned channels require is no different. Paid media is a core part of the ‘Owned First’ strategy but it’s used to amplify and reflect the messaging from the owned channel – rather than be independent of it or be the primary message carrier.

By focusing on owned media first and optimising organic search visibility and conversion rates, paid media works more effectively as it is driving consumers into an efficient owned environment. Owned allows paid to be more effective.

Earned media, the industry buzzword of the last couple of years is also a prized part of the ‘Owned First’ strategy but, like paid, needs to have its role considered and planned. Paid and earned are most effective and influential at the start of a customer journey and, as that journey progresses, the importance of the owned channels increases dramatically. Earned media is incredibly powerful but driven by good owned and paid channels. Behind many companies with high amounts of earned media you’ll find a well thought-out owned strategy.   


(Source: Source: ZenithOptimedia 2014)

The second stage is to consolidate our offering once again. I’m not talking about going back to the full-service agency days and bringing media and creative back together. That split was a healthy one, giving a bit of needed breathing room between the two disciplines. Having multiple agencies involved in the media strategy, planning and implementation process however is unwieldy and provides disjointed results that doesn’t work the marketing budget in the most productive way. A good media agency should provide strategic communications planning alongside the strategists and planners within the creative agencies as well as be superior implementational planners and buyers.

Digital is not a separate medium that requires a strategy and display agency, separate SEO agency and an SEM agency; it’s an integral part of the communications plan and as such should be planned and constructed as part of that mix. By setting up internal digital specialists in the form of VivaKi, ZenithOptimedia has all the functionality of these separate offerings but they are highly visible and connected to the planning teams in a way that separate agencies can never be. Offering a complete media service again, from strategy to implementation across all possible owned and paid media channels is a key component to securing the agency model into the future.

Finally, we need to firmly establish our place in the communications process. For too long the media agency was briefed after creative, often when creative decisions had already been made, and it was really an implementation brief regardless of whether a TV/outdoor/radio spot was the right way to connect with the audience. The audience behaviour should absolutely drive the decisions behind which medium should be used and the people with the best tools and ability to do this sit in media agencies. We’ve implemented this approach with success on local clients and found that we work closer and more productively than ever with our creative partners when briefed together at the start of the marketing process with everyone working together to create the best campaign possible rather than fighting for a piece of the pie.

If we can continue to evolve and consolidate our agency model in these ways I’m confident that we will see success not only for our own agencies, but most importantly for the brands that we represent.       


  • Alex Lawson is Group Business Director at ZenithOptimedia Auckland. He’s worked in the communications industry in a wide variety or roles since 2000, both in NZ and London. 

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