ZenithOptimedia’s Alex Lawson calls for an end to turf wars

“Adapt or die,” says Tom Goodwin, SVP strategy and innovation at Havas New York. In his 2015 Ad Age article, ‘With $25 billion up for grabs, media agencies need to change’, Goodwin posits that clients are facing the fastest moving and changing industry that has ever been seen, but are dealing with agencies that are ignoring their needs and holding onto the past. To survive as an industry we need to change with our clients. 

But what are we changing into?

Goodwin argues for media agencies “to move from helping our clients buy media to helping them solve business problems”. 

While I believe that we should always be thinking about how our marketing solutions can help to solve those business issues, we need to stay cognisant of what is and isn’t possible from marketing, our core task, and we don’t get caught up in trying to solve problems that we have very little or no control over. 

For example, we can’t help clients with their core costs of manufacturing material, but we can help clients realise more efficient sales ratios through enabling better marketing technology solutions to drive e-commerce. 

Many have, and will continue, to suggest that grand metamorphosis or challenging other agency models, usually creative or production, is the way. The regularly floated arguments include that we should return to the full-service model, media agencies should start bypassing creative and start selling ideas directly to clients, more specialisation, less specialisation and so on.

I see the path forward as us building on the already collaborative nature of our individual disciplines. Our expertise (aside from the actual planning and buying) is identifying where we can best connect with consumers at key brand experience moments and how new platforms and tech allow us to do this better, smarter and more efficiently. 

Though we should never be afraid to suggest creative ideas, the best agency models all have collaboration at the early stages of the idea conception process, where media agencies can really prove their worth is helping clients and creatives to keep pace in understanding the expanding creative opportunities of new channels, platforms, data sources, consumer behaviour, experience opportunities or technology. 

Brad Jakeman, president of global beverages for Pepsico, challenged his agencies in a now-infamous 2015 U.S. Association of National Advertisers address to stop producing four pieces of $2 million creative a year and find ways to produce 400 pieces for $2o,ooo. Slightly ambitious in his desired outcome, but you get the drift.

Although, primarily, Jakeman was addressing his creative agencies, those of us in media should be listening. We can’t just sit back and say “it’s a creative issue…your problem”. We have a responsibility to help creatives to deliver the assets Jakeman demands and that give us the ability to implement the media strategies that we formulate successfully. 

Our thinking is rapidly shifting away from 360° or narrow asset suite solutions to 365 days of brand experiences with multi asset suites to execute accordingly, regardless of channel or time. Highly personalised solutions that can deliver at any point. How can we best help guide our creative partners to the same place, enabling them to be able to deliver the creative solutions we require to execute in that manner? 

This requires collaboration on both sides at a much earlier stage than is often the case. We must be briefed concurrently, work at a strategic level together, while retaining our independence for the benefit of idea neutrality, and for all parties to have a level of creative input before individuals break away to execute the stages that their specialist skillsets are best suited to.

If we’re able to do all of that, then our collective work is lifted. The focus is then back on the core task, rather than getting caught up in idea ownership or self-promotion. We can indeed solve clients’ business issues through clever, innovative and effective marketing. 

So, Tom and Brad are right, we do have to change, but it’s a continued evolution towards more collaboration rather than instant metamorphosis.

  • Alex Lawson is group business director at ZenithOptimedia ([email protected]).
  • This story was originally published in the March/April edition of NZ Marketing.  

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