FCB has been running like a dream in recent years, and so has its media arm FCB Media, with four best in shows in the past five years at the Media Awards/The Beacons, a few big clients added to its roster and its integrated offering proving to be a major point of difference. But the world has changed and FCB Media has recently changed its structure to better suit it, with the skills of the digital department now being distributed more broadly across the agency. Managing director Derek Lindsay talks about its philosophy, adding value to clients' businesses and addressing some of the perception problems media agencies currently face.
Some believe traditional media agencies are currently drowning in a sea of commoditisation and are backing themselves into a corner by serving what many increasingly see as an administrative function based around trading. FCB Media's managing director Derek Lindsay says the industry is "very much driven by cost and pricing and that’s disappointing because it’s not just about that". But he's on a mission to show clients how important good media thinking is to their business. And the only way to do it is to get the best people to do that thinking—and dedicate time to doing it.
“The world goes round with people so what we need to do is have the best people to have new ideas and get new thinking into clients … One of the biggest problems with media agencies is that most are generic. If you ask a lot of clients who don’t know much about new media, there’s no real difference between them. A lot of clients do depend on agencies getting them good value. But if you try to beat everybody on price all you’re doing is driving yourself down and out, which is fundamentally flawed. We've had the view for a while that the only way we’re going to move forward is to really invest in people and put time, energy and money into thinking, strategy and communication planning. It’s about starting from a blank sheet of paper so we can look at anything offline to anything digital or social. It’s known as paid, owned and earned. And that’s the key."
He admits it’s easier to look at the whole media spectrum as a larger agency because the resource is available to do it. But "you’re still reliant on people with the right brains and right approach and the right passion to actually do that".
"I think if you go to other media agencies, they’ll say the same thing. And that’s fair enough. But we want to be known more for our ideas and our thinking and what we contribute to clients’ businesses. But the biggest problem with media agencies per se is having clients recognising you’re adding value to their businesses.”
And that seems to show that media agencies have a perception issue.
“There’s no doubt about that. In some ways it’s an advertising problem. The creative agencies would say the same thing, to different degrees. But with media, it’s easier to grasp from a cost perspective because you can look at numbers and compare. Ultimately it is more accountable. From our viewpoint, trading will pay the bills but it won’t make us any money or a fantastic reputation. We do good deals and we do deliver fantastic value because we have some very large clients and we have to. But I think as agencies we have got to move ahead by what we contribute over and above that; by taking briefs and actually spending time evaluating those briefs.”
As the margins continue to tighten for media agencies, time is something many staff seem to have very little of at the moment. But he thinks it's important to separate the business as usual stuff from the "bigger, broader, better opportunities".
"For example, with Noel Leeming we have done a lot of business as usual work for quite a while, but with the Expo [which won the Best in Show award at The Beacons] there was an opportunity to really look at it and do something a bit different and so that’s what we did. We sat down and made a much bigger effort, got better insights into those sorts of occasions, did a whole lot of work around content so we could produce it very quickly and get it to air or get it placed, hence briefing TVNZ, APN and The Radio Bureau to all work together to co-ordinate all of that content. And you get amazing results. That hasn’t been the norm. It was completely media-driven, even though it is a full-service piece of business. We don’t always get those opportunities but we did that time. And that was the right fit for that particular brief.”
He believes awards play a big role in helping to prove the value media agencies can add to clients' businesses. And he says the best thing about its recent haul at The Beacons was that 11 different campaigns across its integrated clients and its media only clients were finalists, so it wasn't about one particular piece of work.
“If we want clients to see that we’re adding value, we need to get them involved [in awards]. There’s no point excluding them. Otherwise it looks too self-serving in some ways and we need to get around that. The awards are great but what do they signify? It's about the work we did for our clients that brought them success.”
Increasingly, that work has a digital focus and up until the middle of last year, Lindsay says it had a completely separate digital team in media. But with huge digital growth in the agency and in the marketplace, combined with FCB’s philosophy around integration and collaboration, he says it was clear it needed to allocate digital resource across the agency.
As a result, FCB Media now has three divisions: media client service, which is being run by Simon Teagle; strategy and performance, which is being run by Rufus Chuter, who was promoted from communications planning director; and brand experience, PR, social and activation, which is being run by Angela Spain. And, as Lindsay says "there’s now digital in everything we do".
"Again, other agencies will claim that, but we understand integration and collaboration very well. We’ve proven that across the board.”
Restructures generally equate to casualties (or streamlining, as it may euphemistically be called). Lindsay says the headcount decreased by about two people as a result of the changes. But it was more about finding the right expertise to suit the new structure (for example, it hired Anna Matthews from Y&R because she had the required expertise in the performance and online trading side of things and it's looking for more digital expertise and mid to senior level buyers).
He says offline and online are all together now and work much more closely together in client service. It's also added search to the strategy and performance unit and it is also looking at implementing an online trading desk from fellow Interpublic-owned company Cadreon.
"It's about getting more data-driven answers. It’s early days, don’t get me wrong, but that’s where we’re heading and we’ve initially targeted two or three clients where we’re going to really push our efforts on that. Noel Leeming is a long term client, and they’re late into the digital scene, but they’re changing right now, which is fantastic. The likes of Flight Centre, which we won last year, a lot of their responses are measured. It’s a very measurable business in terms of both the contacts and the leads and instore at a retail level. But it’s adding ‘where do you get the contacts from?' and 'where are the leads coming from’? We’re doing a lot of work with them around understanding that dynamic a lot more. And if you’re going to include the client data with what we can deliver, the client has to be able to measure that data regularly and accurately. The idea is to match the two. We haven’t cracked the whole thing yet, but the more you can do that the more effective you’ll be for the client.”
Noel Leeming's 'Peoples' Stories' campaign, which involved three different media owners, was a great example of FCB embracing content and trying to create collaborative partnerships with media owners. So is Mitre 10’s ‘Easy As’ with TVNZ. And while he says some of its major competitors are also heading down this road, he believes some of the stuff it's doing is "more formalised and more far-reaching".
"That’s because we are a creative and media agency all together. And that makes a difference.”
He says it’s always looking for partnerships with other media owners. And media owners are increasingly having to work together to help solve client problems.
“It’s the nature of our business and the sooner we all grasp it and move on, the better," he says.
Just as media agencies are dealing with perception problem among clients, they also seem to be having trouble convincing potential staff that it's a viable career. Globally, the advertising and media industry is struggling to compete with loaded tech start-ups and other lucrative sectors for the best talent. In this market, CAANZ has been trying to do something about it, with Y&R’s general manager of media Nicky Greville and others visiting academic institutions around the country in an effort to promote the industry. And Lindsay says FCB is also playing its part.
"We’ve started to do that a lot more locally, rather than going around the country … It is difficult because people don’t know what we do and don’t know there’s an opportunity … We’ve been investing in developing grads. And you get a variety of quality. It’s hard to know what they’ll be like until they get there. It takes a while for them to get into work mode.”
FCB is pretty open about its ‘no wankers’ hiring policy (a policy those who hold on to stereotyped views of the advertising industry might chuckle at). But the same rules apply at FCB Media, Lindsay says.
“We’re picky. We’ve interviewed a lot of people over time. And we don’t accept anyone."