Rise of the global creative media agencies

IdeaThe idea that we are standing at the precipice of a new age in the communications industry, wherein the more ‘creative’ media agencies are separating from the ‘old-school buying’ media agencies and securing creative mandate from advertising agencies occurred to me in the most poignant way over a year ago.

Imagine, the first local-market meeting with a new client after a new global media contract has been secured. The pitch was led and won on the other side of the world and this local client had very little input into the pitch process. Now, the local client is following their directions to onboard us, the new local media partners. It has been rumored that our new local client was perfectly happy with her smaller-scale buying-centric media agency.

Apparently, the old local media agency was ‘highly responsive’, ‘hard working’ and ‘easy to get a long with’, which I would argue are also words one would use to describe a dog breed. But those are definitely not the words most would use to describe a highly creative agency; one that is not afraid to ‘take a stand’, ‘debate’, ‘negotiate’ and ‘create’.

It became clear after an hour that this new local client wanted us to ‘simply buy what the advertising agency tells you and measure it’. If you’re a remotely creative person working in media today, you know this epiphany can either be ‘soul destroying’ or ‘highly motivating’. For me, I saw a reason to be in the room; some of us like a good fight with antiquated advertising vs media thinking.

Past roles: Big advertising vs big media

In the 1980s, many large advertising agencies separated from their media businesses for various reasons, including client conflicts, a need for group buying, etc. Since that time, most global advertising agencies (repositioned today as ‘creative agencies’) have aligned themselves tightly to the objective of finding the ‘creative idea’ as best manifest in scripted TV spots, whereas the global media agencies (still known as ‘media agencies’) aligned themselves to the objective of understanding and reaching the consumer as best manifest in media planning and buying.

For 25 years there has been an understanding that advertising agencies owned the idea and media agencies owned the consumer. Sure, there have been some smaller consultancies, e.g. Naked, that try to disrupt the model and bridge the divide, but they significantly lack global scale and/or buying power, which are table stacks for the communications industry today.

Past roles are irrelevant

The problem with the big advertising vs big media split is this – big media has evolved to the point of owning the idea as well as owning the consumer. Over the last 20 years or more, the global advertising model didn’t change enough; to date it is still designed to profit from the production of scripted TV spots and videos whereas the media agency profit model was forced to adapt every single year as the consumer adapted and used media differently. To be more specific, advertising can make great scripted videos, whereas media can do everything else that is becoming more important (digital, social, search, performance, native advertising, content, sponsorship, partnership, co-branding, etc.).

The fight ahead: 2015 and beyond

For many, I am stating the obvious, but here is the big obvious insight for 2015: authentic content and conversations are more important to consumers than scripted TV spots. Digital content and conversations are more affordable for clients than huge TV production budgets and broad reaching buys. It’s a double whammy for the advertising agencies – overly scripted TV ads are not effective and too expensive.

This leaves advertising with little mandate and an increasingly broken model whereas big media has a huge ongoing opportunity in gaining the creative mandate. Don’t believe momentum is with media? Just last week, Fiat USA launched a TV campaign where simple GIFs were used on broadcast TV to promote the Fiat 500. The spots felt relevant and were highly affordable and Fiat’s intention is to push more user-generated GIFs as well.

Last year, Trident Gum in the US used Twitter Vine videos as their TV spots instead of overly scripted and produced traditional spots and I can testify that clients are less interested in big bold famous-making campaigns and much more interested in highly-targeted and re-targeting digital campaigns, much like the companion ads you are likely to see in the screen periphery as you read this article.

So how is momentum with the media agencies as opposed to advertising agencies? Media is best positioned to spot these types of opportunities and most likely to promote them to clients, as media agencies see the consumers needs in real time and their profit models do not depend on studio production.

How media will secure more ‘creative’ mandate

Over the next five years, media agencies will increasingly secure the strategy, creative ideas, planning, partnerships, sponsorship, execution, and measurement mandate from global clients. Gone are the days when only the most outwardly esoteric and charismatic ad execs could come up with ‘big ideas’.

As Sir Martin Sorrell has mentioned more than once over the years, we really are seeing a shift from ‘Mad Men to Math Men’. Today, big ideas and big executions must be supported by data – and media wins there every time. Today’s media workforce is astute in branding and highly creative with access to big tech and content partners’ creative teams (e.g. Google’s Zoo, YouTube’s Super Users, BuzzFeed, etc.) and/or freelance designers and producers a click away on LinkedIn.

With that in mind, here’s what to expect in 2015:

1) Media will be briefed with, or increasingly before, advertising agencies, as clients demand seamless collaboration.

2) Media’s consumer insights and data will direct creative briefs.

3) Media will increasingly share their own creative ideas and tech/content partner proposals alongside, or without, the advertising agencies.

4) Media network footprints will be used to reinterpret and execute centralized creative ideas thus creating a groundswell of highly creative case studies for new business and the awards circuit.

5) Media will start to hire-up more highly skilled creative minds with excellent storytelling and negotiation skills.

6) Chief creative officer will be a role considered inside media agencies.

It has never been a better time to work at a hot media agency and as we move into 2015, expect to see a record number of media agencies and media firsts sweeping the industry awards circuit as traditional advertising agencies increasingly lose mandate over the one thing they hold so dear: the creative idea.

JR Little is VP, regional head of strategy and intelligence, General Motors Europe,
 at Carat Global Management