This article was first published in Campaign magazine.

My route to “innovation guy in ad land” has been rather eclectic. Along the way I’ve often found myself in various businesses with structures or partner networks that initially induce a frown, but with a little time, start to make sense. I’ve learnt to tread lightly while learning how things work. Eventually, there comes a time when the things that didn’t make sense on day one still don’t make sense and something needs to be done. The smart move is to mention it to colleagues and see if they concur before standing on your soap box.

I’ve had a few of these moments joining ‘proper’ ad land. There are some that are peculiar to big ad agencies but there is one that seems to have reared its head in several of the industries I’ve been in. The dysfunctional relationship between media owners, media buyers, agencies and clients.

In a nutshell, we don’t talk. We don’t share. We don’t really seem to understand the reasoning behind each-other’s decisions.

So, what’s the issue? Media buyers are often tasked with coming up with a strategy at the same time as the creative agency is doing exactly the same thing. Creative teams are beavering away on the big idea unaware that the media buyer is already nailing down where their idea will end up. The media owners work with the buyers so they know the benefits of each location or placement. Can digital OOH media track faces? Can mobile banners target Android phone users… in Waterloo station… at 5.30pm? The media buyers book up the media based on their strategy and targeting opportunities. Then the creative agency received the media plan (the media plan has been via the client btw). More often then not, the media formats don’t fully match the creative direction so the creative agency has to split to a two-tier production strategy. Firstly, potentially compromised creative that fills the media plan. Secondly, the content that will perfectly match the creative strategy. But, more often than not, the media available that will do it justice isn’t in the plan. They get labelled “special builds” or “social or PR wildcards”. The client is getting super-positive feedback from everyone, obviously.

As the campaign rolls out, the focus changes to results. The client clearly wants data to track against their product sales. The media buyer wants data to track the effectiveness of their buy and to decide what they buy next time. The media owners want data so they have effectiveness metrics (and ideally a case study) for the next advertiser. The creative agency wants data to improve the creative messaging for the next campaign. However, most of the data reports back to the media buyer. The highlights get highlighted and the poorly performing data is subtly side-lined.

My son’s recent analysis of a trip with friends seems fitting “it’s the biggest kerfuffle!” Ships in the night. Venn diagrams not overlapping correctly. Poker players guarding their cards. The analogies keep coming.

What would I change? It would be amazing if media buyers and agencies develop the media strategy together. Media plans should ideally happen after the creative and media buying strategy is agreed by clients, agency and media buyers. Media owners should forge fact-based relationships with agencies so that creatives understand the possibilities and can focus messaging to make placements work harder. Media buyers should share the results more widely and with greater granularity so that both client and agency can adjust their strategy for the next campaign.

What will happen if the status quo doesn’t change? Well, it’s happening already and has been happening awkwardly for years. Each party is reaching the “sod it, we’ll do it ourselves!” point. Media owners are more than happy to book media directly as long as the client doesn’t have an existing media buying relationship. Media buyers are more than happy to pitch creative ideas to clients, even if there is a creative agency in the mix. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t! And agencies (ours included) are investing in media buying (usually digital and programmatic) as it’s more cost effective and they learn from the data.

So, where to start? It really comes down to names and faces. We’ve forged amazingly fruitful relationships with media owners just by making sure people know each other and relish picking up the phone to test the water or ask for help. If you’re already involved in the media “kerfuffle”, you probably already know where your fruitful relationships exist. Make them your actual friend not your agency frienemy. Genuinely. Coffee catch-ups work wonders. Make sure your mobile has their number in it… and their first name. Call them with opportunities that make them look good. And by the way, I include myself in this. Call me. I dare you. I’ll buy the coffee.

Dino Burbidge

About Dino Burbidge

I know enough about most things to be dangerous. Currently Director of Innovation and Technology at WCRS.

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