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Building a more rigorous and responsible media agency

11 Dec 2017  |  Caroline Foster Kenny 
Building a more rigorous and responsible media agency

Media agencies must apply a more responsible and sustainable approach if they want to thrive, writes IPG Mediabrands' Caroline Foster Kenny

Dominic Mills wrote recently about the more ‘responsible’ way to measure ROI and how doing so adds additional “intellectual rigour and scrutiny” to the process.

While it’s true that measuring return on investment is often a sticking point in the relationship between agency and client, it isn’t the only area where rigour and a more responsible approach will pay dividends.

The same arguments used by Dominic and by Ebiquity’s Andrew Challier in that article - that ‘responsible ROI’ focuses on scalable profitability in the longer term, is underpinned by short- and long-term measurement, and optimises both for brand and business growth - apply just as much to the media agency model more broadly.

There’s a huge body of evidence that for many, the current model isn’t working. Some agencies have allowed themselves to become homogenised and commoditised in efforts to drive scale and efficiency, with many agencies developing weighty infrastructures and losing their agility. Scale alone used to be an advantage, but that’s no longer the case.

There are new disruptors in the market and revenue models are under pressure like never before - and all the while the industry has become fixated on growth targets and on what and how much it offers, not on how it offers it.

In the wider media landscape, it’s inescapable that data, more than ever, will have to be at the core of our wider strategy. And now more than ever, it has to create and drive an ecosystem that enables agencies to truly understand the value of an audience segment and then seamlessly activate it through online and offline channels, reaching real people with absolute precision. But it also has to be matched with the right creative sensibility - data on its own is meaningless.

Most importantly though, media agencies will have to focus more on long-term brand health and guardianship. Media is more than just a delivery system for messaging - it’s a strategic tool to add value and help clients make money over years, not just in short-term bursts. It requires the right level of supporting architecture, underpinned by data and combined with an in-depth understanding of what is and isn’t ‘right’ for a particular brand.

Done right, it moves agencies up the food chain and into the same high-level, strategic, role that the big management consultancies seek to occupy within the marketing space. Perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates that what we do isn’t replaceable and substitutable.

And yet, rigour does not mean rigidity. In fact, agencies are going to have to be more agile than ever. We now live in a world where business models have to offer entrepreneurial flexibility and people need to be empowered to make their own decisions in order to adapt to clients’ fast-changing needs. We can’t be slaves to previous channels, partners or media, but there still has to be precision and thoroughness when it comes to making decisions.

The argument that ROI requires a more responsible and sustainable approach is, as it turns out, only part of the story. So too does the media agency model, if we want our industry to thrive amidst the current ocean of pressures.

Caroline Foster Kenny is CEO of IPG Mediabrands, EMEA

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