The digital revolution has brought a new face to media agencies, which they must embrace, writes Melina Meletakos.
“Media is still simple, it is just different and you have to adapt.”
So says Omnicom Media Group South Africa CEO Josh Dovey, who believes media agencies need to balance and integrate digital instead of treating it as something that they “bolt on to the end of a strategy”.
“A media agency is also a digital agency, otherwise it is nothing,” he says.
Agencies have already started to adapt to the shifting media landscape as they find ways of making sense of huge volumes of data that are increasing exponentially as the number of media channels multiplies. For many media groups, one of the solutions has been to develop in-house software and tools that make it easier to manage this data.
Kimon Sitas, the digital director at PHD, says the agency has developed a global communications and strategy planning tool called Source. This enables them to drive effective strategy, from discovery and research to measurement and key performance indicators (KPIs).
“Data-wise, some of our clients have proprietary tools and methods which we plug into to drive data collection and insights,” says Sitas.
In addition to the tools they have developed, Mindshare also has a local insights team tasked with creating, sourcing and reviewing platforms to deal with large amounts of data more efficiently.
“We also work with Mindshare Global to avoid recreating the wheel,” Moti Grauman, the agency’s client lead director of digital, says. “The result is our ability to combine proprietary tools and skills with best of breed market solutions. This ensures that Mindshare is ahead of the curve.”
But all this data is useless if it is not properly analysed and then fed through to the relevant people, says Grauman.
“What we need is good data, not big data,” he says, adding that to get “good data” one must take care not to remove the human element.
“The data can only ever be as good as the end user who interprets it. The more data we have and the more advanced our tools, the closer we are to the danger of removing our own intellectual input. In the case of consumer insights and marketing communications, this would be a big mistake,” he says.
Social media has certainly added a new dynamic to the way media agencies work.
“Social media is a game-changer. There can be very little doubt about that,” says Grauman. “It’s already a cliché to talk about consumer-centric marketing, but this is a shift that was driven by social media.”
He says traditional agencies need to take this to heart and change with the times because the industry is moving away from a paid media model (where the brand pays to leverage a channel) to models that are owned (the brand controls the channel), earned (when customers become the channel) and only then paid.
“For many agencies and their clients, this requires a fundamental shift in their overall approach,” says Grauman.
Sitas agrees, saying that social media’s emergence has made it key to any media strategy, particularly when looking at the way platforms like Facebook now operate. He explains that earned media was initially very popular with brands as they all rushed to social media to leverage its potential. As a result, the focus shifted away from paid and bought media. But now, with recent changes to Facebook, it has become even more difficult for brands to reach their own fans organically.
“This has sparked a resurgence in the importance of paid media in order to reach users in the social space,” says Sitas.
As media today is increasingly driven by data and analytics, programmatic systems are being used more and more to do media buying. These real-time systems and algorithms automate the delivery of advertising to consumers as they interact with a brand online.
Sitas says PHD is fully immersed in programmatic buying on a daily basis.
“Programmatic buying of media can have a great effect on cost efficiencies as well as performance, but I wouldn’t say that it is the be all and end all of digital media,” he says. “Programmatic media has its place and any good strategist will know its advantages and disadvantages when wanting to achieve their objectives.”
Eric van Rookhuyzen, head of digital at MEC, says the use of programmatic buying is extremely important but its use depends on how comfortable clients are with the idea.
“There is such a big drive to educate clients about digital media, and that’s just trying to get their knowledge up on basics. When they are comfortable with it, then you can throw programmatic at them. Some clients already understand programmatic, but the majority don’t,” he says.
So with all these extra curveballs thrown into the media mix, does digital require people with different skill sets to their traditional counterparts?
Grauman doesn’t think so, saying that it’s possible that a specific skill set is required for digital media but that at the end of the day, digital media is still media.
“When it comes to media strategy, it’s not only a mistake to think that digital is so different, it’s bad for the media industry and advertising as a whole,” he says. “Although it’s true that digital has its own set of jargon, nuances and inherent attributes that are different from other media, so do TV, radio, out of home, cinema and print. That’s why we need them all. What we need is education in order to make digital part and parcel of the overall strategy.”
Van Rookhuyzen says MEC is moving towards making use of hybrid strategists. These people don’t have to have a technical background in digital or be well-versed in various specialisation channels but they need to know what media touch points to use in a strategy from both a consumer and brand perspective.
From a purely digital perspective, though, there is definitely a need for specialisations, says Van Rookhuyzen.
“Search, for example, is highly specialised. You need to be very technical, you need to sit daily behind multiple screens and bid on media. The same goes for social media, which you can split even further into community management, paid media and then you get various tools that apply to those different disciplines,” he says.
But perhaps the biggest challenge agencies have faced is how to adopt a different mindset in order to understand the digital landscape better and, most importantly, to prosper in it.
Van Rookhuyzen says this mindshift has to happen from both digital and traditional agencies.
“Digital people need to start speaking a universal language that is also understandable to clients. You have to speak their language,” he says. “The same applies for traditional guys. They have to adapt too. They can’t view it as this separate thing anymore. It needs to be part of the whole media mix.”
This story was first published in the September 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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