How to get more value from your media agency

Last week, I wrote a post about why you should care about media agencies being placed closer to the strategic centre of your agency roster – and just as importantly, why that isn’t happening enough. You can read it here.

Why is fine, but how?

This week, I thought I’d consider not the why, but the how. What steps can you take to overcome the challenges posed by last week’s piece?

To aid those of you who aren’t my regular readers (whose number, I am sure, is legion), I’ll do this by re-capping the challenges, and suggesting some solutions.

Last week, I said that Media agencies are often terrible at selling themselves.

I also said that internal pressures placed on media agency business leads, coupled with lack of training, can be woeful.  Whilst the obvious solution to this lies with the agencies (more training, better brand positioning, etc) there are things you can do.

  • Invite your agency in for a discussion, rather than being pressed into a meeting. Be honest about your strategic goals, the reasons you might consider a move that places the media agency at the centre of your roster, and your concerns about this approach.
  • Ultimately, nothing needs to come of such a discussion if you don’t want it to. This shouldn’t be about a sales struggle – it should be about two organisations, trying to understand how best to operate with each other in a changing landscape. But just think how much more effective (not to mention relaxed) it would be for you to drive via a simple vision, setting the boundaries and defining the way in which you’d like your agency to respond.
  • If your agency is smart, it will involve the CEO, who will be much more open, as well as empowered, to provide lateral thought regarding how the agency could change the way it works with you specifically. It doesn’t always have to be about ‘diversified services’ or cash-grabbing – it’s a cultural and strategic shift that can be managed and proven over time. Tell the agency what’s lacking in their eventual/formal response to this discussion and give it a right to reply.
  • If you get to the point of trying to initiate a new structure, ensure that you have the ability to vet, or at least meet, any new ‘strategic’ resource the agency brings on board. For this to work, the skill-set and cultural fit needs to be real, not just promised. The agency needs to be able to demonstrate ability to actually press the button. If that means the agency hiring additional head-count – so be it.

Last week, I said that tradition is a hard thing to break.

  • I don’t think that tradition is always a bad thing. I certainly don’t think that advertising agencies have no strategic role to play – far from it. I have deliberately avoided using the term ‘lead agency’ to describe the media agency’s role, preferring the term ‘central to strategy’.
  • Some of the things to think about here are how specifically you define roles, responsibilities and operational structures within your agency roster, noting that ‘hybrid’ models can and do exist (the Blue Hive model created and operated by Ford is one example).
  • Be open to tearing up the rulebook and thinking laterally. Consider, for example, a shared financial incentive structure that places the same skin in the same game for all of your agencies.
  • Revolutionise your briefing approach so that it places consumer and data-led communication strategy, driven by the media agency, at the centre, from which content creation/creative execution can flow.
  • It should go without saying – but please, make sure that your advertising agency is across and involved. Sometimes easier said than done, but I have encountered situations where one agency is told of a change of this nature (e.g. ‘you’re now the lead, the other agency needs to defer to you on XYZ’), and the other agency is left in the dark, the client somehow hoping that the agencies will find a way to communicate such a change and make it work of their own accord. This never works. You need to lead and define.

Last week, I said that transparency and objectivity (with regard to media agencies) are still question marks.

  • Well – this challenge, in context of what we’re talking about here, relates specifically to contract and remuneration structures, more than anything else. Media agencies are, by and large, remunerated in much the same way as they always have been, which has in part led to issues with transparency, as the landscape shifts. Some are still based on pure commission models, which is never going to get you where you need to from a transparency and objectivity perspective.
  • Consider a model structured around 100% retained cost, stripping away any diversified commissions (such as digital commissions).
  • Ensure that the strategic component of any retainer is sufficient to be fit for purpose.
  • Remove derivative performance measures such as ‘year on year rates’, or ‘TV discounts’, thereby reducing the need for the agency to direct its trading strategy towards meeting the measure, rather than what’s in your best interest.
  • Consider separate retained agreements with key affiliated services such as agency trading desks, which removes the necessity for those profit centres to ‘push for business’ and makes them more transparent.
  • Consider part of the remuneration based on a cost per sale structure (perhaps, as above, this is common to and shared by other key agencies in your roster).
  • Build in a critical reporting structure into an SLA that provides maximum confidence in the activity of your agency, and the effect that activity has on your business.

Last week, I said that the interpretation of what a media agency ‘can do’ is often narrow.

  • Get yourself educated. Simple as that. As with the earlier point about inviting your agency in, sometimes it’s a case of sitting down and having a discussion. It doesn’t have to be ninety-eight PowerPoint charts and a sudden onset of narcolepsy. Do it on your terms, show respect for their efforts, make decisions about how to proceed on the basis of what you’ve seen and discussed.

When all is said and done, to effect change of this nature in your agency roster requires interest and commitment from you. Don’t bother with it if you can’t find the energy. But remember that you’re paying these companies to do the best possible job for you.

There is a clear-cut argument that suggests a change to the role of the modern media agency. That can’t happen if you aren’t open to helping shape such evolution within your organisation – or at least, open to considering it.

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