Managing Marketing: How data is making media planning and buying more accountable

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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Martin Cass, CEO of MDC Media Partners and Assembly, has a long history of running media agencies. Here he discusses with Darren how after leaving Carat, a year at the Wharton Business School and a meeting with the number crunchers behind ‘Money Ball’ transformed the way they do media at MDC Media Partners today.

Martin Cass Podcast

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing and today I get a chance to sit down and have a chat with someone who is disrupting the media planning and buying industry and that’s Martin Cass, CEO of MDC of Media Partners and Assembly all the way from New York. Welcome, Martin.

Martin:

Yeah, my thick Brooklyn accent.

Darren:

You’ve got to work on that accent, Martin.

Martin:

Yeah, 14 years. My kids all speak with a brilliant American accent and my wife and I still sound like this.

Darren:

They say ‘water.’

Martin:

Trash. I can speak American though. I have the language perfected now and my spelling is a little bit odd.

Darren:

It’s an interesting time to be in media and you’ve been in media for a number of years.

Martin:

1988; my first job in London.

Darren:

Wow.

Martin:

I was 12.

Darren:

That’s about the time I entered advertising in Melbourne as a copywriter. It’s challenging times isn’t it because relationships between advertisers and media agencies especially are at an all-time low? I think that’s what you were quoted as saying at Adweek last year.

Martin:

I’d have to look up exactly what I said but I’m neither going to confirm nor deny but the paraphrase will do just fine. It is the most bizarre time. There has never been a better time to be in the fulcrum of media in the Mar/Comms world because the way that people live their lives now is through media whether it be social media, commentating.

Media is connecting people with the things they love, the people they want. It entertains, it informs; it does all of those things in ways that five years ago we could never have believed. And that interconnected, interdependent, always on social, searchable, and transactional world—I mean buying shoes off Facebook, could you have imagined that even two years ago?

Buy a shirt off Facebook and have it all made and delivered in the post. That is a world that is amazing, but the problem is that the world that people have inhabited and come from, that change has been really hard for people to manage.

And the way that clients and agencies would interact in terms of financial relationships between them are fundamentally changing.

Darren:

We started seeing in 2007/2008 this absolute obsession from a procurement and advertiser perspective on driving costs down. It was the response to the global recession, to get costs down, and so people were chasing deals and pushing the remuneration with their agencies down.

Then a few years later it turns around and suddenly everyone is talking about the fact that agencies are making more money often from the media owners in the form of rebates, kickbacks, and commissions but, in fact, media has always been based on commissions hasn’t it?

Martin:

Yeah but I think there are multiple questions within that one question, so the reality is that you’re right. The back end of the recession and suddenly procurement became very important in media and it was because media, I think, was seen as a commodity.

We can buy a glass at this price or rubber for tyres at this price and by consolidating it all into one place we’ve been able to get that price down. And media was put under the same criteria. The trouble is the measurement of that media is so poor is that that price is not fundable. What is a rating? And the answer is if you did it on an all household basis it’s reasonably accurate.

If you start getting down to niche audiences and as the marketers begin to get into segmentation and understanding that there are different types of consumer who look the same roughly on age, sex, class but they are very different in the way they behave. So that sophistication came into the market as well.

The reality was that if I’m moving to say the 18 to 24-year olds the actual people meters were so poor that was I buying 10 ratings, GLPs or was I buying 5 or 15? If you actually looked at the mathematical curves that said what’s my level of confidence? The tighter the target audience the less confidence you had.

So, the argument that I’m going to buy 100 ratings but I’ve no idea whether I’m going to buy 100 ratings. It might be; it might be 100, 120, or it might be 80, the system won’t tell me.

Darren:

I also think the AdTech companies have a role to play because when we first saw the rise of social media networks it was all about one to one and being able to build engagement and target almost on an individual level.

Then again post the global recession it’s almost like the investors in those technology companies said we need scale and mass because we saw a fundamental change in the way they talked about themselves as a media. They started talking about being able to get mass reach.

Martin:

We’re a superbowl every day.

Darren:

At a very low price and so they were comparing themselves with traditional media, especially on things like cost per 1,000 impressions (because traditional media was always talking about cost per 1,000). And they were showing that they could be infinitely cheaper at delivering that same audience.

Martin:

I think that is the biggest issue. And they were smart because they’re good.

Darren:

We then found out a few years later that maybe half those people weren’t actually people and maybe they didn’t actually see the ad because it was only one second and it was deemed to be viewed.

Martin:

I agree with all of that and more. But here’s the challenge. I did a presentation in 2004 to a bunch of brand managers at one of the world’s largest CPG companies and I said you should be thinking about marketing like this and a question came at the end. And he said, ‘but hold on, at least we know what we are getting with television’. And I almost fell off my chair.

I said, ‘what do you mean you know what you’re getting with television? The people meter says I’m in the room but what I’m doing in the room I’ve no idea.

Darren:

The TV is on.

Martin:

Yeah. That’s not really a great measure of whether people are actually either viewing, actively viewing, participating. We get these words of engagement but was I engaged? The TV was on. So, the demands of really how people live their lives and behave and the ability to measure that back in 2000 was zero.

Quite rightly, if you were a platform with 100s of millions of people on it, I could run an ad on it and put my hand up and say I ran the ad and you clicked and were around. Not that different to being in the room when the TV may or may not have been on. I can see how they got there. Don’t forget what they were trying to do was get money out of television.

They were trying to get the share away from TV so from a business perspective I have no problem with the way they did it. The reality was no one was sitting there going ‘hold on a second. Just before we do that let’s stop.’

Darren:

Let’s just check the logic of this argument.

Martin:

A little later you start to get some of the modelling work that was being done where you were seeing last touch attribution. So, what was happening was, yes, they clicked off the platform and they did something—well that must be the platform that caused that. And so, everyone got obsessed with where did they come from?

The reality is a lot of the time they were coming off a platform (they were sitting in a train or doing something) and they clicked and did something. It didn’t mean to say that’s how they found out about it.

Darren:

And that’s where attribution modelling suddenly became the big thing; to work out where they came from to get to that platform.

Martin:

So multi-touch attribution modelling is the pretty poor thing that we do.

Darren:

Google has a big incentive to convince everyone that last click should be the way that it’s attributed.

Martin:

Most of the digital ecosystem do Facebook; everybody had that incentive. Mark Pritchard was very interesting. He said something like we’ve spent too much money in digital.

Darren:

But I think what it was, was at the time we still had this focus (going back to the original point) on the cost of media, which is what makes it desirable because if you’ve got procurement there going I want to get the CPM and the cost down and I want to pay the agency less –oh hang on here’s an option that promises lower cost per 1,000.

Martin:

That’s why I think PNG are a good case history because they don’t do that. My experience of working with them over a long period of time that’s not the way they think. They’re not thinking what’s my cost per 1,000 at an agency?

So, when he said we’re spending too much on digital what he was really saying was with a given budget we’ve shifted a lot of money out of our core media that was driving traffic and we’ve put it into media that perhaps doesn’t drive so much traffic.

So, you’ve got (for lack of a better description) demand creation media in TV and demand capture media in digital and the balancing act between those two things has got out of kilter. And it just wasn’t creating enough demand. Even brands were not as famous as they were, and consumers therefore had less incentive to click. So, it’s going back to the multi-touch attribution and what drives what?

There is no doubt and we’ve seen a lot of this in our own work; that television to this day continues to drive traffic into other channels that pick it up and run with it. So, you have to create that demand. And going back to early days at PNG; you did TV because it got you to people on-shelf in Walmart, Coles or Woolworths.

It got you into those places and then when you were in-store that’s where you made your decisions. Well, the gap now, there’s a huge breach now between those two places. There’s a lot of bridge if you’re a car company between seeing a car driving down the highway with a beautiful sea scene behind it—fantastic advertising—and walking into a showroom.

Those pieces are mostly digital. So, people search, seek, they can price compare. They will look at lots of blogs. They will go to people they trust. They will ask their friends on Facebook—there are communities there.

Darren:

It’s all part of this funnel.

Martin:

But it’s not really a funnel because people jump around that funnel the whole time. They go most of the way down and pop back up again.

Darren:

I think people still like the idea of the funnel because it means maximising awareness to get a few conversions.

Martin:

Yeah, simplistic.

Darren:

It’s this idea that if you could drive 100% awareness you’re not necessarily going to get 100% sales.

Martin:

Yeah but I do think that funnel has got a lot of us into trouble because it seems so logical.

Darren:

Gravity drags them down to the bottom.

Martin:

It really does not and understanding that (again, going back to why is data so important?), data can help to understand that path to purchase in a way that we couldn’t before.

Darren:

O.K. I see funnel as different from path to purchase. They are very different. A funnel is the ability to observe the number of people at any particular stage in the normal process.

Now, you’re right; they bounce up and they go around; path to purchase makes an assumption that they will follow a particular path. At any point in time you would be able to do research to get a sense of how many people are aware, how many people are in consideration, how many are actively searching, and how many are about to buy.

That gives me almost always a funnel because the awareness and the about to buy is always in that ratio. Path to purchase—I hate it when they draw it as this linear approach because human beings aren’t linear.

Martin:

It’s not linear. They go backwards and forwards and move about.

Darren:

They’re like particle accelerators; they’re bouncing all over the place. They’re electrons in the universe.

Martin:

That’s why the data is so important because it starts to unravel those myths or givens—some of those givens are beginning to be broken up because how do people make decisions about what they’re going to do? And they’re very different.

So, when you think about target audience today, invariably within that target audience you’re going to have multiple different target audiences. When you think about the ability of advertising –at the top of the pyramid is a big TV ad. And somewhere down there, there are lots of reasons to believe why you should buy whatever it is.

And those reasons to believe—funnily enough we can find out where people are going to search and seek about safety in automobiles for example. That requires you to produce content that is about safety for that brand. There’s a guiding light and all these reasons to believe why you should buy this product.

Those reasons to believe you probably can’t afford to put them on TV but actually you can put them into places where people are seeking and looking for and actually start to build that brand in a much broader way than we used to.

Darren:

Almost like building beacons that will attract people as they move into what’s important to them on the way to making a purchase decision.

Martin:

Exactly and challenging it. When they are for example looking for a vehicle and they’ve got young kids and they want something very safe rather than something that is very fast people start to look at safety. They’re not just going to go ‘we’ll because it says it’s safe I’m cool’. They’re going to look at the reviews; look at what journalists are saying.

So, the interrelationships of all these things are really important but in a digitised world where most people are seeking this stuff out you can follow that. And you can start to understand how those decisions are being made, empirically.

We keep talking in our business about being roughly right. Stop trying to be precisely wrong because it will take you too long; you’ll never get there. We are careful not to try and get too academic because academics are looking for perfection. We’re not looking for that; we are looking to de-risk people’s marketing.

Darren:

The equation you raised earlier, 50/50, if you can move it anywhere better than 50% not wasted then you’ve improved.

Martin:

If we go back to the question about procurement, can you acquire the assets you need at the best possible price? The price is what’s right for you, not for Johnston and Johnston or PNG. There are different price points that you are required to purchase but in the same way as when you are buying stock, they have a different price profile than others. Some people take it short and some take it long.

What they’re trying to do is say, what do we think the value of it is, not what does the market think the value is? The market is dumb. We need to be smarter than the market. So, if you can be smarter than the market and you’re buying the right assets at the right price.

Darren:

For you.

Martin:

For you then that builds brands and businesses. It may be that you need to pay more for a certain asset, which is why this idea of price is so crazy.

Darren:

So, this is a very different model to the traditional media planning and buying model isn’t it?

Martin:

Yep.

Darren:

Because the media planning and buying model sat down and usually said something along the lines of we want to get such and such reach, certain amount of frequency, here’s our specific target audience, we develop a strategy and a plan, and we do a buy and measure it against that reach and frequency target.

This is totally different.

Martin:

Well, it’s not totally different, it’s just being able to do exactly what you described but you are then sub-segmenting that out into not that amorphous target audience where we were before because the measurement was so bad. You can measure everything in detail and it’s not really reach and frequency.

I don’t care about reach and frequency because all reach and frequency is a proxy for do people take any notice of you? Reach and frequency has been linked to awareness and we’ve used awareness as a proxy.

Darren:

That’s what I mean. Before it was all about awareness and just telling people things and hoping that they’d then fall down into being customers whereas now you’re talking about looking at opportunities of tracking and moving people forward by providing the right message at the right place and right time and in the right format.

Martin:

And at the right price. But also, just one thing that I want to make clear because the problem with that is if you just did that and you assume that by getting more and more targeted and more and more specific you’re going to sell more product—not right.

We’ve looked at a lot of these models where television is really important because television talks to everybody. It makes brands famous.

Darren:

It still does.

Martin:

But if people aren’t interested in your brand, for whatever reason, because it looks good, feels good, or in the luxury markets—there’s not much logic about the purchase. But even for a car, if there’s something specific that it says that has a mass appeal then television is great.

It’s the blend between how you are building your brand in terms of making as many people as you possibly can aware of it and knowledgeable about it and giving them a reason to buy. Then you break into its constituent parts picking off those people in the (to use Proctor’s words) ‘strategic target’: anyone that might buy my product.

But then there are prime prospects of big enough groups of people whom I can affect with different messaging over time in a sequence that will actually get them more likely to purchase or take action.

That’s the clever part about what marketing and media has become and why media needs to be more sophisticated than the way you described it, which is buy everything as cheaply as you possibly can. I think procurement are coming along on that journey.

Procurement has had a bad rap. If you can’t measure it then of course you’re going to look to buy it cheaper because it doesn’t matter. If I have no idea whether this is better than that then which one is cheaper? If I can empirically tell you which one is better, then I can actually make a value equation between those two different things.

More to the point I can say I can buy all these people or half of them—which half do I want? I’m prepared to pay more for one half because I’m not buying the wastage. So, ironically, you pay a higher CPM. That’s the craziness that people have got themselves in around price.

But it’s been done because the measurement systems were terrible. The measurement systems are not terrible anymore. They’re just not the measurement systems that people trade from.

Darren:

But there are still global clients incentivising their agencies on lower CPMs and these are the same clients that are using media benchmarking as a way of tracking whether they are delivering on their performance, which is to reduce cost per 1,000.

Martin:

Well, it’s a journey.

Darren:

There are still consumer packaged goods clients that use this as their main media metric.

Martin:

Yeah, that may be. I think they will change over time. I was talking to you earlier about Moneyball and the baseball teams in America. It started off one team doing it, then the Red Sox did it and won a World Series and now everyone does it.

If you look at cricket in this country I bet you there was a little bit of sophistication around measuring that speed, where he bowls that ball on a regular basis, Hawkeye and all these technologies—some coaches were using them, a lot weren’t; now everyone is using them.

I think as it becomes more proven and more sophisticated everyone will start to move down this road. You’ll see the measurement systems of the past—people just going ‘no’. And when you think about people meters and the difference between a people meter and a set-top box and the data that can come back from a set-top box versus a people meter and people will only use a people meter because that’s the trading currency.

It doesn’t have anything to do with does it work or not. It does, and it’s been good enough, but things will move on and those measurements will get more sophisticated and you’ll see evolution. Things will change.

By the way if you’re a global company the biggest problem you’ve got is many of your markets can’t do the things I’m talking about.

Darren:

Because the data is not available, and the markets are not as sophisticated?

Martin:

Probably the latter, not so much the former. I don’t think there is a data shortage.

Darren:

No. Probably one of the big challenges for marketers is that there is too much data and they are completely overwhelmed by which data are they meant to look at?

Martin:

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to analysts—we’ve got 20 or so in New York.

Darren:

Data scientists?

Martin:

Well there is a difference between data scientists and data analysts, but we won’t go into that. And by the way every time they leave in the evening the IQ in the building goes down by 20% so these are PhDs and they’re specialists in what they do. I made the dumb mistake of asking what data do you actually need? And I had a withering look from the guy and he said, ‘I’ll tell you what I don’t need; you get me everything’.

Because the beauty of what they do (big data) is you bring as much into the system as possible because that will make the system more accurate.

Darren:

It’s the science of big numbers.

Martin:

The bigger the numbers the better the chance of being successful.

Darren:

That’s right.

Martin:

And you can work out mathematically what’s not important—that’s the beauty of the system. And that’s why the more information you can gather the better it is. And then that starts to allow you to make decisions with a higher level of confidence.

Even when I was doing mathematics at school there was this ‘what’s my level of confidence for this mathematical equation being correct—my r squared?’ You get to a certain level of confidence and that’s good enough for me, that’s fine, that’s roughly right—not precisely wrong.

Darren:

Two standard deviations will be fine.

Martin:

That’ll be fine—if you get an r2 of 85 that’s just fine thank you very much. If you can get better than that that’s really good. You can explain most of what’s going on. That’s where we’ve tried to take the business with our business.

Darren:

I’ve got a question for you because I’ve got quite a few friends who are data scientists or analysts and data visualisers and they say the hardest part in their life is when they identify an insight, being able to communicate that to the people that can actually do something with it.

Martin:

You must have been in my office recently.

Darren:

So how do you overcome that because that’s such a big leap? When I talk to my friends who are mathematicians it is an interesting conversation, but they say most people don’t get what they’re talking about.

Martin:

Yes, that’s quite right. We have the same problem. Two-dimensional visualisation on a spreadsheet is really hard so we’ve just invested a substantial amount of money in building 3D (well it’s actually 4D) Oculus Rift technology to actually be able to show that. We’ve done pictures now of clients in the room wearing VR and they’ve got the handheld sticks and you’ve got one too.

You say click on here and we’ll look at this particular anomaly. We can turn the data around and start to look at it and say, take a look at that. That’s an outlier—why? It’s a very successful market—click, and you can start to look at why is that so successful? And you can actually start to see these things in 3D. It makes an enormous difference. It’s catnip at a pitch too by the way.

Darren:

They’d love it because data visualisation is a way of turning the huge data numbers into something people can see and relate to.

Martin:

Yes, simplicity. Mathematics and science and all these things are really good but having them on their own is absolutely useless and that’s why I go back to academic versus practical. And it’s the balancing act between having enough academic rigour to be able to say I am confident enough to say you should do this.

Many of the clients have these people in-house as well and they can talk to each other and say statistically and mathematically these equations and algorithms, we believe in them; they’re good enough for us to pass muster.

And then the marketers and the business decision makers can go right now help me to understand it better—that’s where data visualisation comes in.

Darren:

Another friend is an actuary and we were talking about traditional media and predictive modelling and he goes, ‘they’re trying to do predictive modelling on four variables. We wouldn’t do it for fewer than 250 to 500 variables.’

Martin:

And he’s right. That’s why I said to you at the beginning—how do you deal with this big data? Where I was made to look a fool—what do you need? I’ll tell you what I don’t—you give me everything.

I’ll demonstrate to you the statistical differences. By the way you can take 3D visualisation and throw every data source into it and it looks like a massive mess, so they start to filter. And they filter and filter to find what’s important. And they’re looking for the things that are going to make a difference and also, practically, levers that you can pull because sometimes you can’t pull the lever.

There is no means of differentiating these two things; you can’t do it so don’t bother about it. So that’s where the difference comes between people who are academics and people that are actually able to turn that into useful information to make decisions.

It’s great having information but if you can’t draw insights from it from which you can draw implications you’re kind of screwed.

Darren:

There is a hierarchy isn’t there that goes; data, information, insight, knowledge, wisdom?

Martin:

I haven’t seen that but that is exactly what I was describing.

Darren:

It’s about how do you ladder up each one because the higher you get the more useful it is?

Martin:

And I got religion because I started looking at this in sport. We literally started playing around with going and meeting people that were doing this in sport.

Darren:

Like Moneyball?

Martin:

Yeah, the Jonah Hill character in Moneyball went to Boston and said ‘everybody says Moneyball doesn’t work because the Open As (a really poor team) never won a World Series’. The reality is the same team went across to the Boston Red Sox and they subsequently used the same methodology to win the World Series.

And we come across that same group of people and they say, ‘we never won a World Series but what we did is help them to understand the things that were missing and were needed in their team statistically.’ They couldn’t tell them whether they were good players or not.

Darren:

Which is a great metaphor for modern media because the fragmentation of markets and channels means that a traditional two-dimensional view of the landscape (i.e. we’re the advertiser and out there is the customer we want to reach) has become infinitely more complex.

Martin:

And infinitely more affectable. It is the tyranny of choice right? You can either take it as ‘it’s a nightmare, oh my god let’s do the same things we always did simply’. And that’s where you get back to let’s do it cheap versus actually embracing the complexity, getting that complexity into a system that allows you to see the wood for the trees and then actually action that.

The beauty of that is it’s the same way as the super smart traders do it. The Seller has no idea why they’re buying what they’re buying; they don’t know. Sellers use to be the ones with all the information but not anymore—the deer has a gun.

We’re the deer. We have a gun now so suddenly that relationship has fundamentally changed; the hunter is the hunted. It’s flipped and so many people don’t get that. That’s why the value equation has completely changed.

Darren:

That’s interesting as well because I imagine that being able to take this approach, this data enabled insight compared to a traditional media approach would be much more time and labour intensive wouldn’t it?

Martin:

It would if you did it with people. We don’t do it with people.

Darren:

It’s all technology. It still takes people to do insights.

Martin:

Media is a magic world. It is impossibly complicated to deal with by hand and yet we still deal it by hand. It’s like trying to build a modern car by hand and that’s still the way media is dealt with. If you think about the technologies that exist to actually connect all these things together they don’t exist.

That’s to the benefit of the seller and, to a degree, to the benefit of the agencies because they can charge an FTE model and we need 1,000’s of people to do all this work because it’s very labour intensive. And it is. If you can remove as many of those keystrokes as possible by using technology to help you, you can reduce your human touch.

The other thing about human touch is that humans are really good at certain things and bad at others. They are not great at taking a billion lines of data and 50 terabytes of information and analysing. They’re very poor at that and they couldn’t do it.

But what they can do is once they’ve programmed that data and looked at what is and isn’t important you can have really smart people who can say there’s an insight there not just information.

And agencies have been really bad at differentiating between information and insight. I was there as much as anyone else–let’s have a strategist. The idea of a strategist was someone who thought big thoughts and trends and could distill this stuff. But the trouble was they were trying to absorb it themselves.

A strategist now has got to be someone that can read the data and understand what it’s telling them in a way that they can draw insights from that information. The analysts are the ones that help them remove the wood for the trees and say these are the five things that are important.

To go back to my baseball analogy—I don’ know which are the best players, whether in their heart they want to play, whether they’re drunks, abusive to their wives and want to drive their car off the cliff—I don’t know. That’s not my job. That’s your job as the human in the mix to choose those people.

Darren:

Now it’s being informed.

Martin:

Roughly right. De-risking. You’ve got to de-risk it—it’s too much money.

Darren:

You’ve been doing this approach for four years. Is there a move towards developing a remuneration model that is performance and value-based rather than just a fee for service? It seems to me that this is quite a focused approach to delivering a measurable outcome other than your spots ramp.

Martin:

The answer is ‘yes’ but not quite in the way that you’ve described it. There are still too many parts of the mix that are out of anyone’s control that sit in my world. Price, distribution—who the hell would have known there would be a commission coming down on the banking market?

There are external forces that spread though media, ironically, and PR is so much more important than it ever was before. We still only control what we can control because they are controllable elements.

We tend to take the view that there are two pieces to the way we operate. One of which is a consultancy base, like a consultant gets paid for great advice, advice that’s really useful. You can advise, encourage, and cajole but in the end we don’t run the companies that we work with.

So, in the end it might be someone’s choice that ‘no, we don’t want to do that. It’s too risky’. That’s a choice. That’s not our choice. We get paid well for that. We get paid substantial amounts of money for doing economic modelling work to be able to give that advice. Our clients can choose to take that or not.

I mean I can join a gym and it costs me $1,000 a month. If I don’t go I’ll still fart, be drunk and stupid and go through life that way.

Darren:

$1,000 less each month.

Martin:

But that’s fine. I can’t force people to do things. We’re lucky enough when we set out we set out with a really simple mantra, which is we want to do work with the most sophisticated clients in the world. And everyone goes, well that’s great but what about the big ones? No, they will be the big ones of the future. I want to be in there when they’re not necessarily big and help them grow.

By doing that I think we found that they’re more sticky. You said earlier that some clients aren’t interested in this and we’ve seen that. So, when we go to pitch we probably turn down more opportunities than we take to go into pitch simply because you can smell out quite quickly someone who is doing exactly what you described before.

Quite a lot of people in consultancies who are advising those clients are in the middle of all of this as well because they want to get paid by the client. And they’re doing a pitch and it’s like ‘how cheap can you go?’ We just don’t do it and that’s proven to be a good thing for us.

Darren:

A good rule of thumb.

Martin:

I don’t want us to come across as just being good mathematicians and nerds. Don’t forget we’re owned by the partner company with the moist lauded creative assets in the world: 72andSunny, Crispin Porter. It goes back to the day we started talking about this company was why do you need to have a media organisation in the middle of NBC? And it came from a guy called John Boiler, the founder of 72andSunny, was at Wieden Kennedy, a really brilliant guy.

I sat down with John and said what do you think of media agencies? He said, ‘oh they’re great; great partners’ and eventually after about 20 minutes he said, ‘you know what,!&?!! I hate media agencies. Every time I give them an idea it gets 30% worse’.

Our job is to make those ideas 30% better and in a media world where everything is interrelated people live their lives like that. It is insane that he could say that, but he says it because there is this fight and journey to the bottom, which is driven by that whole price thing you were talking about in an environment where that is the exact opposite of what you should be doing.

It wasn’t really very bright to work that one out once you had stayed away from the business for a year and looked at it and went ‘that’s crazy; what are you doing?’

Darren:

I joined JWT in Australia the month they separated media out to become Mindshare and I understand the business thinking that separated media, but I think it’s been proven that was lost is this idea of what’s more important; the message or the medium that it’s delivered in?

And the fact is today the mediums provide more insight and information about the customer or consumer than any other source. The idea of going and doing market research is almost irrelevant because you’ve got so much information.

The media and creative agencies being together means that you change the model so that instead of media being the last 5 minutes of the presentation it’s actually the first 10 minutes to say this is what we know about your customer based on the data that’s available to us.

Martin:

I think you’ve nailed exactly our view of the world that the creative and media that split away all those years ago will come back together. But not in the way that creative agencies thought they would, which is we’ll carry on telling you what to do. That’s not going to happen.

We collaborate within MDC around the data and I tell you what a data scientist or analyst does solve most arguments.

Darren:

Because there are the numbers.

Martin:

You can’t force someone to do something but there is all the evidence and I’m 85% certain that’s exactly what you should be doing, and they go ‘no, we’re going to do this’—completely different—o.k.

It’s a waste of time. It’s a much more profitable business to work like that because you waste so much less time—clients are so much quicker to ‘got it, right, it’s all about this is the area we need to be working on. These are the sensibilities of people. These are the people, now let’s go and do the creative work.’

How many times have you sat on a creative presentation—there are seven different ways into this idea? No, no, no, there is one way into the idea and that’s the way that’s going to make you the most money or have the most influence.

Darren:

The single biggest thing is actually understanding the market. A client brief comes through and says grocery buyers with children up to 15 years of age. You hand that to a data scientist or analyst and they’ll come back and go ‘we’ll, there are potentially 57 different personas in that broad category and these 7 are most likely to buy your product based on past behaviour.

So now we’ve got a very focused understanding of where the real value is in this very broad demographic.

Martin:

The most gratifying work and certainly the one that’s won the most Effie’s have been the times when we’ve collaborated with the creative agency and done exactly what you’ve just described. And the creative agency is smart enough, open and willing enough.

Darren:

Open enough?

Martin:

Honestly, we’re lucky. We’re finding our group to be very open. Actually, one the biggest successes is nothing to do with our group; it’s completely outside of our network where the agency said, actually the client drove it and the client was enlightened to say, ‘let’s do it this way’.

We actually completely, fundamentally changed the target audience of a pretty established marketplace. The business has outperformed the marketplace substantially. And over half of the new accounts have not come from the traditional people you would expect them to; they’ve come from the new group that we went after.

It’s a market where you look at the creative and everyone looks the same; it’s about price, all of these things and the advertisement that was created as a result of looking at the people, the audience we thought was the most ripe, is absolutely different and made a difference in the market. We don’t do creative. It was nothing to do with us and the creative was brilliant, and it’s really well executed but they knew exactly who they were going after.

Darren:

Which makes great creative. Look we’ve run out of time and it’s been great having a chat. I’ve just got one last question for you. We’ve finished talking about creative agencies; which is your favourite one?

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About Darren Woolley

Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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