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Why Mediapalooza won’t happen this year

Why Mediapalooza won’t happen this year
Opinion: 100% Media 0% Nonsense

The three-year cycle of pitch explosions could be broken in 2024 as advertisers appear to be more “introspective” about what they need.

“So sorry, can we reschedule? I’ve just been called into a pitch meeting.”

Do you have any idea how many interviews and meetings I’ve had cancelled at the last minute because of people from agencies being called into pitches?

It’s an occupational hazard for a journalist who speaks to media agency execs, because pitching is the lifeblood of a creative sector business that has to present ideas, demonstrate they would be a good fit and (let’s be honest) look prospective clients in the eye and show they actually know what they’re talking about.

But, so far this year, I’ve noticed a distinct lack of frenetic “pitchiness” among media agencies. It seems that many advertisers are actively delaying the start of a process, often triggering one-year extensions to contracts that are normally three or four years.

The explanation for this appears to be rather simple. Advertisers aren’t quite ready.

But when they are, 2025 could be the most consequential “Mediapalooza” this industry has ever seen.

Who’s going to do what?

A Mediapalooza had been expected in 2024, but we’re almost at the end of the first quarter and it doesn’t seem to have happened yet.

It had been expected because we had a flurry of pitches in 2015 (leading Adweek to coin the term), another in 2018, then another pandemic-y one in 2021. Advertisers have tended to employ agencies on three-year contracts, so there is logic behind the theory that we were due for another frenetic year of account reviews this year.

Agency leaders I spoke to had expected this. Kelly Parker, UK CEO of WPP’s Wavemaker, said: “Last year was relatively quiet in terms of big, UK whoppers… I think we might see three or four big, hotly contested whoppers in the UK go up.”

Watch: Media agency clients nervous about being ‘behind the curve’, says Wavemaker UK CEO

However, the nature of media agency reviews has changed. As Procter & Gamble’s former media lead Gerry D’Angelo pointed out at our Year Ahead debate in January: “I don’t think we’re ever going to have a Mediapalooza of [2015]. That’s never going to happen again.

“What’s happening now is lots of large advertisers are a lot smarter about how they deploy their investments into media and there’s lots of scope for segmentation. So what would have originally gone to a media agency in its totality… clients are much more introspective about ‘pitching’ in the sense of: ‘Who’s going to do what?’

“Some of that stuff’s going to go in-house, some will go into specialists and some is going to go into agencies.”

Being more intentional

Speaking at the same debate, Kara Osborne, UM’s UK CEO, maintains that major advertisers will still need to run big pitches that include media, but that it’s likely to be more integrated with other marketing services.

“We’ll see more requests for integrated pitches, where they’re looking for entire holding company group offerings, where you’re looking at media, creative, customer experience as one,” she said.

While Osborne agrees the nature of pitching will change, she insists that “some of the fundamental challenges, whether you’re pitching creative, media or something else, that really hasn’t been fixed as far as how we pitch and [its] net positive impact.”

But that means marketing departments have had to do a lot of work behind the scenes figuring out “who does what” while keeping costs as low as possible. Aside from the extraordinary economic growth coming out of the US, the global economy has been sluggish since the shocks of Covid-19 and advertisers have been mindful of cost-conscious consumers when inflation is high.

This best explains why not enough advertisers are ready to run a big review: they are not ready.

Ryan Kangisser, managing partner, strategy and consultancy, at MediaSense, tells me that the advertisers he speaks to are still undergoing a period of “introspection” this year as they rethink their marketing organisation and what agency model they require. They have been building teams to make sense of their own customer data instead of relying on media agencies to give them the data-led solution.

They want their messages to live on more media channels because audiences are fragmenting, but does the advertiser really need an agency to plan and buy the media for all of them?

“We expect 2025 may see the return of Mediapalooza, with brands much more intentional about what they want from the agency partners and better-equipped to embrace new models,” Kangisser says.

This emerging model, as Kangisser sees it, would be “integrated in how the disciplines come together and more agile in being able to meet consumer demands”.

From ‘rock stars’ to rock steady

The volume and nature of how advertisers pitch their media matters because it has a direct impact on the jobs that people at agencies do and the way media owners should approach their sales strategy.

If this year’s Mediapalooza is more integrated in nature (Integrapalooza?), then it could see the return of the planner-buyers and the rise of more generalist media operators as brands demand people who can better see the entire marketing landscape.

That would be a departure from the last 15 years, which have seen almost all the growth in advertising spend gobbled up by tech platforms, creating an enormous need for specialists who can best navigate the sprawling systems of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

And that might prove tricky for agency groups, which have invested vast sums into acquiring and developing data platforms and the specialist operators needed to make sense of them. One agency veteran tells me: “The holdcos used to pitch by wheeling out their ‘rock stars’ and having great ideas… those days are over. Now they compete on the basis of how wonderful their proprietary tech solutions are and how it delivers ‘faster, better, cheaper’.”

“Faster, better, cheaper” is a great mantra if your business is McDonald’s, but it’s problematic for a professional industry that might require complex solutions across a wide range of disciplines.

If 2025 does indeed prove to be Mediapalooza 4, and it will be much more integrated in nature, then it’s not just advertisers that will need to spend this year getting ready. Agencies need to be “on alert” too.

Omar Oakes is editor-in-chief of The Media Leader

100% Media 0% Nonsense is a weekly column about the state of media and advertising. Make sure you sign up to our daily newsletter to get this column first in your inbox every Monday, as well as key updates with what’s happening at The Media Leader and our upcoming events. 

Alex Moore, Global VP, We Generate, on 05 Mar 2024
“It feels increasingly that nervousness around recession and instability around big tech publishers will and is leading to far more hunkering down rather than rolling the dice of expensive, long, pitching processes for clients to lead on too. A great read as ever thanks Omar”
RIchard, CEO, JAA Media, on 04 Mar 2024
“I hope 'integrapalooza' catches on!”

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