Is your approach to
media buying ‘Penny
wise or pound foolish’?

The thrill of negotiating a smaller agency fee from a large media buyer quickly dissolves once you realise what level of support you will receive; however, this seems to be how most Marketing and Procurement Managers in Australia choose their media buying agencies.


Is your approach to
media buying ‘Penny
wise or pound foolish’?

Why? It comes down to two factors; a lack of understanding of the increasing complexity of media buying and management, and a failure by media agencies to clearly explain how their methodology and resources differ from their competitors.

The Race to the bottom

In response to a ‘race to the bottom,’ media agencies tend to over promise and under deliver. This problem is further compounded by an increasingly unregulated sector. This makes clients increasingly skeptical and less willing to commit to an agency for the required time it takes to build a relationship based on trust and continuous improvement.

What criteria should you use
to select your media agency?

If fees are not the criteria you should use to select a media agency, then what is?

Focus on qualitative factors such recent performance, a balance between the size of your account and the size of your agency, an understanding of the current media landscape and their willingness to invest the time to understand your business.

Recent performance

Most agencies will wax lyrically about their past performance; however, they may be less willing to provide details such as the recency of these results or detailed case studies supported by their clients. The speed at which the media landscape is evolving means that any results more than 18 months old don’t speak to the current media paradigm.

Detailed case studies supported by clients will also be in short supply. Partly because clients are protective about the factors that have led to successful strategies. Media agencies also tend to ‘embellish’ their successes and downplay the impact of the creative agencies role in campaign success.

Strike a balance between the size of your account and the size of your agency

If your media buy is small by national standards (e.g., less than $5M a year), then you may want to avoid larger media buying agencies, simply because you’re not going to be a priority client. In comparison, your $2M account will make you a priority to the new generation of more nimble, proactive and new media savvy small media agencies. Your goal is to strike a balance between the size of your account and the size of your agency, with the goal of building a long-term relationship that delivers.

An understanding of the current media landscape

There’s a commonly used term which says that ‘no one ever got fired for buying IBM.’ It talks to a more conservative time where big brands were the safest bet. This adage is no longer valid, neither is the belief that the more traditional media buyers deliver the best results.

The facts don’t stand up. The media landscape has changed entirely. The best advertising agencies are no longer the biggest. The same is true for media buyers. The right media buying agency will be prepared to go that extra mile to understand you, your business, your competitive environment, and your challenges.

New generations of smaller, nimbler and connected media buying agencies, driven by digital natives are now setting the agenda, and the smartest brands are taking advantage of this new media buying paradigm. This wave of new media buying agencies is ‘agnostic’ in nature, viewing all media channels through the same critical prism. Their size and awareness of the new media landscape allow them to adapt faster and exploit new opportunities.

Willingness to invest the time
to understand your business

As clients become less ‘invested’ in their relationships with their media buyers, it’s natural that media buyers become less willing to invest time to understand clients. The right media buying agency will be prepared to go that extra mile to understand you, your business, your competitive environment, and your challenges. They will be less willing in providing a templated solution, and ready to look for new and potential more efficient ways to enhance the effectiveness of your media strategy.

What does a ‘good relationship’ with a media buying agency look like today?

Relationships by nature require a degree of trust from all partners. In the case of a client/media agency relationship, both parties need to enter into the relationship with a degree of ‘trust capital,’ which compounds over time with openness, clear communication, and meeting (or exceeding) expectations.

This atmosphere of openness and transparency should empower both parties to make a more informed decision and trust the process (such as experimentation) that leads increased campaign performance.

The role of experimentation in modern media buying

The elephant in the room with media buying is that not all media strategies work. In the current media environment, even campaigns that have worked in the past deliver diminishing returns or even fail on their second attempt. The bad news is that not everything your media agency will advise will work.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to. If you have an expectation that everything your media agency does will work every time, you are setting yourself up for disappointment, or worse; you are asking to be lied to. If media buying were an exact science, someone would have built an app that removed the need for media buyers altogether. They haven’t.

The current media landscape is so fluid that you always have to be experimenting, and not all experimentation will succeed. The trick is to ‘fail fast,’ learn why and adapt. The good news is that relationships with a media agency that facilitates openness and transparency enable these outcomes. It’s how you maximise the ROI of your media buy.

A meeting of equals

If you treat media (and your media buying agency) as a commodity, you will always be disappointed with the result. The relationship you have with your media agency should be one of equals. Your media agency should feel empowered to ‘speak truth to power.’ In other words, they should feel that trust flows both ways and that they can feel safe telling you what you need to know, not what you want to hear.

When that relationship extends to a third party, such as a creative agency, the same principles should apply. Only by a free exchange of ideas and mutual trust can you create the ‘lightning in a bottle’ that exceeds all expectations and builds long-term success.

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