Two recent conversations spurred me to reflect on the state of media owner and media agency relationships. I had coffee with a bright and experienced ex-colleague, who is now on the media owner side of the business, and in the course of our conversation, she commented on the non-responsiveness of many agency personnel. She would not even receive an acknowledgement of receipt of a proposal that she had mailed, let alone a positive or negative response. I commiserated with her, remembering with a twinge of guilt that sometimes media agency life can be so pressurised that one does let things slip through the net, including manners and good intentions. Even so, surely a brief “got it” and “go/no go” response should be possible?
Not long after that I was talking with members of the Abstract Club (the freelancers circle founded by Jo Scholz and Karen Dyke and funded by Ads24), and the topic of a notorious “spammer” came up. This salesman regularly deluges the planning fraternity, or perhaps more accurately sorority, with details of the all the surveys he represents, regardless of their relevance. Everyone on his database receives everything. The basic concept of targeting seems completely alien to this salesman, and although the worst example, he is not alone. No wonder then, media agency personnel tend to skim their mailboxes looking for the responses to their requests, and pretty much filtering out everything else.
Unfortunately I think it is true that many agency personnel do not place much value on media owner input, despite the fact that agency profiles are liberally sprinkled with comments on how they build strong relationships with media owners. The pejorative description of “just order-takers” is frequently bandied by media agency staff in connection with media owners.
According to the 2014 MOST Awards research, the media agencies’ most important performance criteria for media owners were firstly knowledge of their own brands and media landscape, followed unsurprisingly by service delivery. The third criterion was knowledge of client brands and the market landscape.
Certainly a number of media owners produce good-looking proposals and presentations that clearly articulate the advantages of their media. Many are good at keeping the industry updated on day-to-day developments. Indeed, the better ones even seek to address how their brands are evolving across platforms, and may even share insights into their audience developments.
However, most of media owner presentations, even those prepared for specific clients, remain very generic in nature. Often the only nod to the client for which they are intended is a client logo included on the slides. (Admittedly this can be quite a dangerous undertaking in itself, as client logos do seem to the subject of frequent revision and updating.)
I suspect that this vanilla approach does not do the media owners many favours. Media owners have access to all the research information, such as AMPS and Ad Dynamix, that the agencies have. In addition, they buy into surveys such as TGI and have often carried out their own programming or readership research. They often have more data than the agencies, although their research departments might fiercely guard some of it. With such a wealth of information at hand, why are they so tentative in analysing it and using it to build hypotheses as to how their media could best serve specific clients? The hypotheses may not always be correct, but actually having an opinion on the matter makes for a really good conversation starter.
The 2014 MOST Awards research showed that media owners firstly expected their agency counterparts to demonstrate knowledge about their client brands and market landscape, and secondly to be informed about the media landscape. It seems that media owners are deferring to the media agencies in terms of client knowledge, which inevitably puts them at the mercy of the media agencies’ communication skills. (Perhaps fittingly ‘communication’ was the third performance criterion they identified for agency personnel in the MOST Awards research.) This reticence on the part of the media owners to develop and offer their opinions on specific client needs leads to the agencies often overlooking what the media owners could bring to the party.
Of course, the media owners’ viewers, listeners and readers are the very same product and service consumers that the media agencies are attempting to engage on behalf of their clients. Both parties know their consumers well, albeit from slightly differing perspectives. What is needed is more intelligent dialogue between media owners and media agencies. With the current emphasis on content and native advertising, this becomes essential. The media owners should be diligently mining their knowledge bases for meaningful conversation starter. They need to earn recognition from the agencies for the value that they can bring in helping understand the consumer and crafting effective and meaningful campaigns.
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