Tom Denford
By Tom Denford
Mar 1, 2016 3:49:49 PM

Independents’ Day Is Approaching


The big media agency networks tend to dominate everything. From the buying of media impressions on an industrial scale to the award stages through to the trade press coverage of what happens in our global industry.

But it’s worth remembering that these same network agency giants are all built from the many local acquisitions of independent agencies. And just as smaller independents managed to thrive in the pre-digital days, so today they still have a big opportunity.

Right now its easy to feel that media is growing increasingly complicated, from the new jargon that programmatic has introduced to the complexity in tracking and influencing consumer behaviour that technology has created.

Many marketing and procurement leaders are struggling with how to navigate this, but they know that getting media right is essential to deliver growth and connect their brands efficiently and effectively with their target customers.

Marketers want to take more control of their media spend, they want to be sure that media investment is really driving business growth and the smart independents (as well as the smarter agency networks) should be positioning themselves as the perfect partners to help them achieve that.

Many of the marketers we speak to share some common frustrations. They are frustrated that digital, which should have provided the holy grail of performance marketing, has turned out to be rather murky, hard to trust, riddled with fraud and conflicts of interest.

They are frustrated that the large network media agencies are increasingly controlling the media inventory, its pricing and the distribution of added value, making it harder than ever for them to achieve their key business goals in a transparent and accountable way.

We work closely with senior marketers around the world and they're concerned at the current state of play and interested in a better solution. From their media agency partners they are looking for better talent and they want to work with smart people who are better aligned with their business success.

Media planning and buying should, in theory, be a simple undertaking. Sadly that’s rarely how it turns out. Too many bits of the industry appear to be profiting from increasing the complexity rather than helping simplify and solve it.

We anticipate an increasing demand by marketers for better media "craft" as an output from their agency partners. They want media planning and buying that gets back to the basics of defining a great insight, a differentiating strategy, objective media planning and diligent, selective and data-optimised media buying.

This is the central opportunity for a great number of smaller, independent media agencies around the world. They have the opportunity to navigate between the large agency media deals and provide a more flexible and tailored service to ambitious advertisers.

Although the big networks like to boast about their buying scale, this provides limited competitive advantage as the spread of media pricing has narrowed in recent years. There is no reason that smaller agencies shouldn’t be able to compete on pricing, because scale of media billings will become less important in a media marketplace that is eventually democratized by technology.

Smaller, more agile agencies have always been able to see the gaps in these bulk buys and secure smart deals with media owners, who are keen to attract added revenue from outside the major agency networks. That’s as true for digital as it is for TV and outdoor.

And with more and more brands looking to develop content-based campaigns, scale has become secondary to the ability to co-ordinate and manage bespoke deals with key media owners.

What actually provides competitive advantage is the ability to secure the smartest agency talent, the people who are able to identify the differentiating idea that will enable a product or service to truly stand apart from its competitors.

This commitment to the craft of good media planning and buying fosters trust. If the CMO can trust her media agency then she is more likely to invite the agency deeper into the business, making it more likely that the agency can act like a true strategic partner and develop the best ideas.

The future for a productive agency/client relationship is neutral, bespoke, trusted, committed and invested.

For many brands, I think the future will increasingly involve an independent agency perspective and talent.