Dustine Tobler, business unit director at MediaCom South Africa, has seen all sides of the media marketing landscape. Having worked for media owners in their sales divisions (Sunday Times, and Primedia), media planning, media agencies (several over a 10 year period) and on the client side (five years at Dulux as marketing manager), she can appreciate everyone’s point of view.
“Having been a client for a while, really empowers you to understand the frustrations that clients go through… You are frustrated all the time by being let down by suppliers, one after the other, which impacts you,” she comments.
But what she is seeing in the industry is painting a worrying picture. Procurement teams in big clients are carefully manging their value proposition and delivering on stringent KPI’s, this leaves loads of challenges for brand teams, forcing them to change their approach to one of cost-saving, rather than true connections with clients. This fundamentally changes the way agencies do their work and interact with these clients.
“If all our job becomes is to drive another eight percent or five percent value in a client’s deals or trading in negotiations, we are losing a lot of essence in those transactions,” explains Tobler.
She adds that this situation also forces agencies to employ a different type of person, someone with an finace background who will focus more on the deals, rather than a creative person with big ideas, as they cost money.
In her current role, Tobler is responsible for relationship building with clients and ensuring the team delivers what they are meant to be doing in terms of resourcing, profitability and quality of the product. She currently oversees 12 clients, including Siemens, Sony, Pfizer, Richemont and Dell, to name but a few.
Constant communication and thorough knowledge of the client
Asked how she goes about managing her clients’ businesses requirements, especially since they cover a vast array of industries, she says the first step is always a thorough on-boarding into their world. Getting to know their business intimately and discovering their culture, strategy and understanding of not only their industry, but the world as a whole, is key. What they want, and delivering a product that matches their needs, is also essential.
Tobler touts constant, clear communication as crucial for a client agency relationship, adding that in today’s world this is few and far between.
“The clients that have delivered the best results and relationships are the ones that communicate the most; people who foster real partnerships, real sharing and glean the best out of their agencies,” Tobler says.
Several industry players have commented in the recent past on the speed at which clients do away with their agencies, reviewing this aspect of their business to try and find more value. They say that clients are too quick to dump agencies and that there is very little loyalty left in the agency world.
Tobler compares a client/agency relationship to that of a marriage. “When you’re getting divorced, you’re going to trade somebody in for another person who equally has their own set of problems… There is less loyalty than there was in the past, but it’s driven by huge pressure on these clients and we’re trading in such tough times that in a lot of instances they are forced to become a bit more difficult or demanding,” she says.
Tough challenges facing media
Tobler names several challenges facing media companies including resources, accountability within environments, and for her most importantly the recent emergence of consultant firms who still have intellectual credibility taking business and talent away from agencies.
“They have viable proposition with sophisticated intellectual assets and clients are so under pressure that these become viable,” she says.
The emergence of a team dedicated to new business development and marketing is a recent phenomenon, which she believes shows the importance of this aspect of business to agencies.
As Agency Network of the Year again this year, MediaCom is well placed to support its South African operations, with shared resources, a state-of-the-art digital online planning tool, as well as learnings and shared knowledge from operations in other territories.
Here are Tobler’s top trends in media:
As an experienced media practitioner, Tobler’s advice to youngsters just starting in agencies or wanting to get into this space is to be prepared for hard work and to have a true passion for the work.
“I have seen so much attrition,” she says. “Young, bright people coming into organisations and have then, in a matter of months or years, departed into entrepreneurial endeavours.”
Michael Bratt is a multimedia journalist at Wag the Dog, publishers of The Media Online and The Media. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelBratt8