Media independence: it’s not just where we’ve come from but where we’re going

Media independence: it’s not just where we’ve come from but where we’re going

David Price, Managing Director, The Grove Media

Every year since the early 90s, an industry leader – usually on the creative side – questions or bemoans the unbundling of media from the traditional advertising agency.

Most recently, this has been Ogilvy Vice-Chair Rory Sutherland, as reported in Campaign. It doesn’t really matter who made the comments as they are nearly always variations on a general theme. The argument being that it would be better for clients if media & creative were still under the same roof, working together on a shared goal.

It would be understandable if the comments were about Brexit, ie we should never have gone our separate ways. To date, we’ve seen no obvious benefits of ‘unbundling from the EU’ and there is seemingly no prospect of any benefits.

But when it comes to media and creative, the opposite is true. Advertisers have benefitted significantly from media being separated from creative. And while the industry is far from perfect, all the different types of agencies and specialists – not just media and creative – are very good at working collaboratively on very complex communications challenges.

The point has been made countless times before, but media forms the bulk of a marketer’s adspend and in the days of full service agencies, it was simply relegated to the back – of the building, the discussion, the process, the pitch…Something had to change to ensure that such a significant amount of money was managed with the sophistication that it required and to ensure that essential media specialisms could be developed and allowed to flourish.

Through unbundling and the growth of a vibrant independent media industry, we have seen the development of highly sophisticated media planning and buying and a science that underpins communications planning. We’ve seen the development of advanced measurement and modelling techniques, and the creation of a research & insights function that leads the marketing industry. And we’ve seen the growth of digital media and all the agency specialisms – search, SEO, programmatic etc – that are driving this.

All of this has delivered a level of ROI that would be unimaginable without unbundling.

But as is often the case, it’s not just about where we’ve come from, but where we’re going. Media agencies are working with tech partners to embed technology such as AI and machine learning into media to deliver all the benefits of tech futures. Media agencies are working with media partners on content and other platform futures and helping to deliver innovation at scale for marketers. And media agencies are still very much the supplier of media talent for client-side marketing departments, and the same agencies are also working consultatively with clients on in-housing initiatives. And, in these difficult economic times, it’s the independent media agency sector that is most able to get the best media deals and offer true flexibility for clients.

Debates about a return to full service will no doubt continue – and full-service start-ups will appear from time to time – but advertising wouldn’t be where it is now without media independence and communications has a healthy future with a wide variety of independent specialists.

Photograph courtesy of Ankush Minda from Unsplash