The traditional media agency is finished

The traditional media agency is finished

However, we do have an opportunity to take on a consultative and diagnostic role as CMOs’ remits broaden and they ask more of their partners.

I’ve hopefully caught your attention with that headline.

So it might then surprise you that I’m plunging not into the media agency, but the role of the chief marketing officer (CMO).

There’s been a mission creep imposed on the role of the CMO over the last decade. With the expansion of the customer journey, they’re being asked to do considerably more than what the role is used to. That means CMOs are dealing with a greater variety of questions and challenges from a broader part of the business.

Creative, brand strategy, CRM, social, PR, HR, you name it — the portfolio of responsibilities a CMO now oversees far exceeds what any single person can plausibly be an expert in. Whereas once the typical answer to “what’s keeping you up at night?” might have been paid media or brand strategy, nowadays it’s more what isn’t keeping them up at night.

Asking for more

As a result, CMOs are asking more of their agencies in terms of the services they offer, the consultation they provide and the expertise they have.

That means lines are blurring: managing partners are no longer only providers of client service but client consultation and much more; planners need to be strategists and sometimes client handlers; category specialists need the savoir faire of generalists and vice-versa; and client leads need to be both data- and tech-literate while providing clients with North Star thinking.

And this is having a transformative impact on the way media agencies must be run, from account management to planning and data, and how these functions not only work harmoniously together but are accessed with ease by clients.

If we want to service our client CMOs’ requirements today, a commoditised approach around traditional media planning and buying is clearly no longer fit for purpose.

And that’s before we even touch on the opportunities (and no doubt pitfalls) AI — yes, sorry, it has to be mentioned — will bring for our clients and for agencies.

Needless to say, the traditional media agency model is finished.

The glue that connects

We have to rethink the role of agencies today, from how we upskill our businesses to the capabilities we possess and the services we provide. This ensures we can answer CMO questions and build solutions for problems that might not yet exist or which CMOs don’t know they have.

Amid this sweeping transformation, agencies have an opportunity to be the glue that connects content or performance and everything in-between, while being consultants that can identify ways to optimise marketing performance and carve out new growth opportunities.

Media and creative clearly need to work closer together — they are so often still siloed, but the data thread from media to creative is more pertinent than ever amid the inclusion of dynamic creative optimisation and conversion rate optimisation to the media arsenal.

As such, we also need to help break down silos, whether in our agencies, between agencies and in clients. Because to our clients’ customers, there is no such distinction.

That’s why you’re finding media agencies in spaces you’d not ordinarily expect a traditional media agency to be in. For example, we have just acquired a creative social media agency called Wilderness and our other acquisition this year, Ledger Bennett, is already helping our clients unearth commercial opportunities in B2B.

Future-proofing the model

So what does a future-looking media agency look like?

First, we need to be open to reimagining how we structure our clients’ teams. We must become obsessed with the broader customer journey, so we are thinking beyond siloed and traditional media to understand how it all pieces together for customers and clients. Our role is to pre-empt, always and forever, to keep the customer journey seamless.

Secondly, we must look at how to better involve the board. With CMO roles broadening, internal stakeholders are asking more of them around customer data management and tech integrations, for example. By bringing the board closer to marketing and media conversations, it assists our clients in elevating the impact and importance of these topics to the business.

And lastly, we need to strengthen the strategic consultancy skills either through training or attracting different thinking and talent from elsewhere. Because we won’t fulfil the potential of our new consultative and diagnostic role without upskilling or attracting — and, crucially, retaining — the very best inquisitive minds.

No talent is permanent, of course; you’re only ever borrowing it. We must all work together to nurture it and keep it in our industry. Because with the transformation of the agency, without skilled and representative talent, the transformation is pointless. And then we’re talking not only about the end of the traditional media agency.

Ailsa Buckley squareAilsa Buckley is managing director at Havas Media UK

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