Advertising and Media Agencies: The Future Is Now

The fictional ad man Don Draper is back for the seventh and final TV season of Mad Men, and what better time to talk about advertising and media-buying agencies – and how they fit in our media-saturated lives.

mad-men-1In the world of Don Draper, of course, it’s the late 1960s on Madison Avenue, when advertising began to emphasize the experience, rather than the product (think, “Come Alive! You’re the Pepsi Generation” from 1963). TV and print media were the two main channels to reach consumers. We had yet to see 140-word tweets or viral videos. And Harvard Business Review had yet to call the data scientist, “the sexist job of the 21st century.”

So a better question might be, what hasn’t changed? Advertisers, media-buyers, and marketing teams still need to have that creative edge to engage consumers. If anything, the necessity for creative relevance has never been more intense in the fierce competition for audience mindshare. In fact, Chris Tuff, senior vice president and director of Emerging Media and Partnerships at the independent advertising agency 22squared, believes, “Everything we put into this digital space needs to be a ‘welcome intruder’….That means we need to improve content and take a less invasive path to targeting customers.”

But in many other ways, similarities have faded. Gone now are the days when agencies can simply deliver advertising or other media campaigns and let them run their course. Agencies must deliver on new forms of value in a complex, networked world.

Think about it. In the years represented by Mad Men, TV and print media were the primary means to achieve what every advertising and marketing team wanted – awareness and reach. They were semi-autonomous channels, with little crossover impact. In contrast, companies today must orchestrate campaigns and allocate resources across traditional, online, social, and mobile channels, to accommodate consumers shopping in stores and on PCs, tablets, and smartphones. The channels are tightly interrelated. Brands speak, and consumers talk back. Influence is distributed across a global network of people with something to say, and many do so with online posts. Agencies need to choreograph campaigns in real time for the best performance for their clients, using the new analytics tools with power to query the data.

And on top of all that, there’s social media democratizing access to vast numbers of people for those who can harness the power of virality. Consider how two Shakespearean actors – Sir Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Captain Jean-Luc Picard) and Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies) – became social media sensations during the past six months. The two were in New York starring in the twin bill of Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land at the Cort Theater. In addition to a BuzzFeed video that went viral, the two actors came away with 600 million impressions on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (data from Shareablee), and became media cause célèbres in the process. The value of those impressions in traditional media buys is almost incalculable.

In this brave new world, how can agencies deliver more value to clients seeking high-impact and real-time results in audience awareness and customer conversion? More specifically, how do agencies take command of this flotilla of opportunities in paid, owned, and earned media?

  1. Unite the Voices. One can imagine Don Draper at a table in today’s advertising world with a team of copywriters, social media leads, media buyers, software developers, and mobile experts surrounding him. Agencies are in a unique position to bring together the key partners to deliver integrated marketing and advertising campaigns – from the digital networks to print and TV buys. In fact, as Chris Tuff says, agencies have a responsibility to play the role of liaison. For example, he says, in the case of client Southeast Toyota and its 2014 Corolla “Unexpect Everything” campaign, “it meant taking them out to meet with the Facebook auto team, Tumblr and digital network leads, mobile developers, and their software partners to make sure everyone was on the same page, that we were working as a group to create a truly integrated campaign that drives return on investment (ROI) on- and offline.”
  2. Gain Insights From Data. Agencies must now be data-driven to truly support clients, given the extraordinary volume, variety, and velocity of data routinely accumulated. Consumers leave digital impressions that are the key to how, when, and why they buy. That, combined with sales, finance, customer service, distribution, and other information, gives a 360-degree view supporting advertising and marketing decisions related to both strategy and campaigns. It’s our experience that agencies are not only adding in-house data analysts, but also partnering with companies that can deliver sophisticated and user-friendly tools in marketing analytics platforms. This is a critical area of support that agencies can give clients awash in data they often don’t know how to use to be more effective marketers.
  3. Test and Optimize. It’s not enough to build campaigns and let them go. Analytical tools enable agencies to measure the interaction of advertising across media placements and sales channels. That means you can allocate and readily adjust client budgets and buys on regular intervals. Plus, predictive analytics gives agencies the ability to literally alter the future by running “what if” scenarios to optimize campaigns, test, and then optimize again.

Finally, there’s a vital, if less obvious, role that agencies today play. We live in a time of extraordinary change with ever-growing computing power and data, as global connectedness accelerates. We continue to see emerging digital platforms. Today’s advertising and media agencies may be among the best positioned to educate clients about options to achieve better results across all advertising platforms and media channels. And, that’s an opportunity Don Draper certainly didn’t have.

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