The Great Media Debate

What’s the “right way” to handle online media? There seems to be a lot of talk among agencies and advertisers, with those of us in the industry asking ourselves, “Who should be planning our online media?” As online becomes an increasingly mainstream medium, people are wondering if online media planning and buying truly require specialized agencies, or if traditional agencies can provide those services to clients.

There are a number of agency models. In some cases, large agencies have begun cross-training their media planning groups so one group plans all the media. In other cases, the online planning group is completely separate; perhaps it’s a different division, perhaps it’s another agency altogether. Which one of these models yields the best results for clients?

Different advertisers will have different answers to that question.

Since I run an interactive agency, I see the many client benefits to seeking a group of specialists to plan and buy online media. Some of those benefits include the following:

  • Interactive is an area of specialty and is constantly evolving. Because of that constant change, there’s a need for people to do online media full time. I simply don’t see a way for a traditional media planner to do both on- and offline and keep up with the latest, best practices in the digital world.

  • Perhaps because the medium is evolving so fast, no other medium sees media and creative working so closely together. At my agency at least, our media planners provide our creative team with constant insight on what works and what doesn’t. That makes future creative executions more effective.
  • Emerging technologies blur the line between media and content development (e.g., blogs, podcasts, etc.). In many cases, marketers use these platforms to connect with audiences before they officially become advertising platforms. Keeping the online media in the place where these efforts occur means having a greater opportunity to leverage these platforms before they become commonplace.
  • Online campaigns are often hardwired into the client’s business model. As interactive agencies, we’re often working not just on a client’s online advertising, but also its business model, Web site, search marketing, and viral marketing. Keeping the same group working on all those efforts makes the overall interactive work stronger.

I’m sure some of you disagree with this. You could argue bundling online media with offline would lead to tighter integration, better cross-platform thinking, and more negotiation power. But I’ve seen great integration and buying power come from two separate agencies working on the same piece of business. The answer lies in maintaining specialization while facilitating better integration.

It’s walking a fine line, to be sure. And it’s a line you’ve got to constantly reexamine.

Here’s where I put that line at present: If they don’t already have them, agencies should work toward creating specialized groups to handle online media or partner with interactive shops. Meanwhile, agencies should work toward educating traditional planners about online. Though work needs to be done by specialists, traditional planners must understand more about online and how to determine a good media mix.

Advertisers should look for interactive agencies that can demonstrate effective integration with traditional agencies. Or, if an advertiser sees the benefit of working with just one agency, it should look for an agency that can prove it has an online specialization. If that in-house interactive group can also function independently and compete against the pure-play interactive shops, it’s icing on the cake.

I can imagine there are some strong opinions about “the right way” to handle online media. What model do you think we should follow?

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