Pitch for the Stars: 5 things to look out for in a great media agency

Media agencies. They aren’t half polarising. At one end of the opinion spectrum: skilled, trusted and increasingly strategic practitioners, using sophisticated tools and technology to deliver millions of dollars of their clients’ money, as well as expanding into increasingly diversified areas of service.

At the other end: shonky generalists, traders at heart who pass off other people’s ideas as their own (refer to various aggrieved network salespeople for details) and who ultimately cream far more off the back than they take from the front (so to speak).

Are things really changing?

There’s no doubt that media agencies of today are almost unrecognisable from as little as five years ago. In fact at UM, Mat Baxter doesn’t even want his media agency to be called a media agency any more, and having read his commentary, I can understand why.

So what’s real, and what’s rhetoric? Well – I don’t think many would disagree that change is a constant. I would also argue, based on fifteen years of media agency experience, that the degree of complexity faced by media agencies as businesses is huge, not least because they need to pick a path between the now, the next and the ideal.

Fitting all moulds, and then some

Trying to drive forward-thinking media strategy is hard when the fact is that right now, the bread and butter of any media agency is the trading of paid media – the majority of which, in dollar terms, sits in television.

A great deal of elasticity in skillset, mindset, envisioning, motivation and resource is required to pull everything off at once and I would argue that most of the bigger media agencies are creaking a bit under the pressure.

Pitch for the stars

So what does all this mean for the poor advertising or marketing client, trying to make the right choice of media agency partner? It means they have to go beyond traditional ways of assessing the worth of a media agency.

You all, I’m sure, know the fundamentals of what you need to assess – buying performance, a good strategic process, the right FTE, enthusiastic people, market knowledge, and competitive pricing are some of them. But these things should really be the must-haves – no agency should even be in the room without them. There is so much more to look for.

Call it a media agency or not, there are some big buttons to press in assessing a great agency from a good one. Here are five of them.

1. The right balance between future-proofed thought leadership and traditional trading ability

It’s really delicate – when considering your actual needs, too much in-balance in either direction can ultimately cause real heartache on both sides. Try and assess the fit of the agency ethos as a whole with your organisational needs now and in the future, and brief accordingly. If the agency gets you, they’ll demonstrate a great understanding of both.

2. Flexibility around remuneration models

If agencies are really trying to adapt themselves in terms of service, they need to adapt their payment structures. For all but the most hidebound, commission-based remuneration is simply no longer appropriate. Look for willingness to work with you in discussing performance-based incentive structures that will help to establish a business partner mentality.

3. Gravitas in negotiation

Yes, agencies should be flexible around remuneration models – but this does not mean ‘be the cheapest’. Don’t perpetuate the race to the bottom. You should be buying the best fit, not the cheapest block, and the agency should recognise this. The way they approach cost negotiation with you (and also the way they structure their paid media trading approach) can tell you a lot about the state of their business and their mindset. Cheap deals do not always drive best results; it’s as simple as that. The agency should demonstrate strength in driving a mutually equitable agreement, not folding to the cheapest possible price.

4. Agnostic transparency

This should go hand in hand with the right remuneration structure. A healthy agency relationship should involve complete agnosticism of thought. If the correct answer to a strategic brief lies away from paid media, even away from the agency itself, then the agency should be telling you this. The agency should be geared to the best outcome for you, safe in the knowledge that it is being paid well for its efforts.

5. Organisational acumen

Organisational acumen. A great agency should be able to mould itself around you, rather than you around it. Sometimes, this might mean adapting or deferring its own way of expressing itself to yours, or working together to achieve the right organisational sell-in. Agency recognition that progressive marketing, and the sell-in of new marketing concepts do not begin and end with the marketing director but extend to other functions (IT, legal, procurement, sales, C-Suite), is a great thing to work with.

Think about accentuating these areas when constructing agency pitch material or briefs. You never know – the perfect stars for your organisation may just shine through.


To find our how TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultants can help you further with this, click here.