“My philosophy is: never waste a good crisis.”
Melissa Wisehart, SVP of global media at Media.Monks is reflecting on the multitude of challenges facing marketers right now. There’s the obvious one - the economy - creating downward pressure on budgets and consumers’ spending power. There’s the oversupply in inventory caused by the global supply chain snafu of 2021 gradually catching up with itself. There’s the impending - though protracted - death of the cookie and the scramble to get first party data in shape, just as data regulation is becoming more fragmented. Oh, and there’s the drive to reduce carbon emissions while making sense of digital media’s complicated footprint. And talking of complicated, we haven’t even started on the platforms…
… But from Melissa’s perspective, all this pressure and confusion means that there’s never been a better way to cut through the bloat of the old school media model and opt for a more nimble and surgical approach to media.
That, according to Melissa, means taking on the sacred cows of media, particularly pushing for big numbers when it means ad spend is being wasted on irrelevant audiences.
“I think there's so much disruption happening and pushing back on this old approach of just media tonnage. It's highly wasteful, for both of your dollars. So when you're in a market where there's downward pressure on total savings, there is an opportunity to relook and go beyond just reach and frequency, and abandon this notion of tonnage. But then when we talk about responsible media and investing, emissions footprint, and all of those components as well – there is a total pushback from the market, both morally and financially.
“I think there's a real opportunity right now for brands to really take a look at what they're doing and how they're planning a media programme that, unfortunately, still leans towards more of a media tonnage approach. For a company like us, we can be much more surgical, and say, ‘this is exactly the investment you need to meet your goals; no more, no less. And here's how to do it in a way that's actually going to drive results to the bottom line, not just stuffing impressions into the market’.”
That precision approach also means taking the broader dynamics of the wider world into account and applying them with nuance.
“In our media planning process, we have inflection planning. It's really designed to bring in a broader set of data and metrics that really looks at the market, not just, ‘here are the channels, here's reach frequency’,” explains Melissa. “There are so many dynamics at play outside of the media. I think we, as media professionals, get such tunnel vision, we get obsessed with the mechanics and the levers that you have to pull in media, and we lose sight of what's really happening in the world. So that's why it’s important to do things like ingesting additional dimensions like inflation, consider what's happening with consumer confidence index, and apply this, not just to our planning process, but actually in our optimisation process as well.”
That delicate nuance requires neutrality and can apply to all sorts of elements of the media planning strategy. Take brand safety and social media platforms. Ben Brown is SVP of media EMEA for Media.Monks and he talks about recently working with Twitter for a Saudi Arabian client. It so happens that the platform is used quite differently in different markets and Western perceptions of a place for often fiery, even toxic debate does not accurately reflect the way the platform drives consumer behaviour in Saudi, which is very different to the US and UK. Ben says that it reflects an agnostic approach and a careful understanding of local market context.
Finely-Sliced and Flexible
That surgical approach doesn’t just apply to the media strategy, but to the very offering. Ben perceives that bloat also infects a rigid end-to-end offering being pushed onto clients by holding companies. Instead, Media.Monks prefers to offer up a more a la carte approach that’s more responsive to clients’ needs and enables Sir Martin Sorrell’s ‘land and expand’ strategy.
“You talk about the holding companies and their media offerings. They are very big lumps of spend building people tools, they've probably built themselves. And they're trying to plant that onto clients and saying, ‘You've got to have all of this’. Increasingly, clients are saying, ‘I need a bit of this and some of that,” says Ben, who explains that the offering and single P&L (profit and loss) model allows the group to put together bespoke approaches based on a client’s specific market and capability needs. It also means that they’re not trying to retroactively justify elements that clients don’t really need. “You haven’t got to take the whole job lot.”
The flexibility also allows the team to pull in other aspects of the advertising pipeline when needed. Jason Day, EVP of growth at Media.Monks/S4Capital, suggests that clients’ need for flexibility requires an organisational structure that’s up for the challenge. Media.Monks’ single P&L and transparent billing means, for example, that there isn’t the intern-departmental ‘argy-bargy’ that can plague other organisations. But it also allows them to build flexibility into contracts and relationships from the off, without having to stop and renegotiate terms every time something new strikes and changes the market conditions (which, in our post-covid permacrisis, happens all the time).
“There is a demand from clients, contractually, to ensure a more flexible budget across different capabilities,” says Jason. “So, simplifying it, say you've got a media-led contract with us and there might be a catastrophic event, we may need to suddenly push that into more data services or into other capabilities. I think we're uniquely placed by our structure not only being agile in how we deploy the talent and the people that we have, but actually contractually to enable the demand that we're seeing from clients to be more flexible in the services that we can deliver.”
Perhaps pairing media with tech or data is not a huge stretch, but it also means content production – historically, not an obvious roommate with media. Ben and Jason talk enthusiastically about ‘content effectiveness’, ensuring a coherence between the media strategy and the content assets being produced. Add onto that technologies, such as AI content generation, the real time opportunities afforded by games engines and the promise of delivering that tailored content to the right person in the right place with that surgical precision – at scale - and it comes to life. Melissa shares that for one large video streaming platform, the team recently output 1.6 million video variations.
“Talk to anyone at TikTok, and they will say that there simply isn’t enough content being produced for brands on its platform. Which is astonishing. Platforms are eating up content. So, the way that production has scaled through technology to proliferate those assets, [is] great. [But there’s] no point having all of those assets if they're not tied to the right media plan in the right place on the right platforms. And then you've almost got this space in between where the value and the effectiveness of that production is nothing without the delivery through the media to platforms and channels,” says Ben, who argues that the Media.Monks model can not only connect production to media, but use data and tech to refine and improve.
Responsible Media Needs to Be Razor-Sharp
That combination of precision and integration across the group also, argues the team, allows the agency to take on a more responsible and less wasteful fashion – which they say has a positive impact on the carbon footprint of the media buy.
The challenge, however, whether it comes to reducing carbon emissions, building a more socially and environmentally responsible media model or simply implementing a less wasteful and more efficient approach to media – is that it often requires clients to completely overhaul their KPIs and therefore the behaviour they’re incentivising.
“Oftentimes, the agency is incentivised to find savings or CPM efficiency and when you start to introduce carbon footprint into how you’re planning and optimising your media, sometimes your media is going to get more expensive on a CPM level. But you might be reducing overall waste. But your contract and procurement team is not set up to be part of that conversation,” says Melissa, who explains that the team at Media.Monks like to break that conundrum down into more manageable bites.
At the most basic, there’s creating a dashboard to track the overall carbon footprint of a brand’s media investment. Going up a level, the next step is to find out if carbon offsets are reported at a corporate level, thus switching up top-down incentives. Then, there’s benchmarking, using historical and cross-client data to help shape the media planning process. And then, ultimately, the goal is to get to a point where the team can optimise out of carbon heavy, low-value placements in real time. Getting to this point requires an alignment between carbon emission goals and the incentives baked into contracts and relationships with the agency.
“We need the clients to be really, really informed along the entire journey to understand that, not only is this the right thing to do for the business, this is the right thing to do for your planet, and the contract that you have with us is absolutely flying in the face of that. So how can we work together to revise that?”, explains Melissa.
And Media.Monks' integrated approach to ESG, which spans all of its capabilities doesn't sit separately from everything else it's trying to achieve. Reducing waste, focusing on effectiveness and efficiency and radical transparency all feed off of and into the drive towards responsible media.
Together in Pursuit of New Targets
This isn’t just a conversation to be had with marketers, but with procurement departments or heads of finance. And the question of leveraging the right incentives as mechanisms to drive a desired behaviour and outcome is one that has implications beyond carbon emissions, all the way to the overall efficiency and effectiveness of media strategy. For example, where brands have a rigid range for CPM, they can miss out on more impactful premium spaces that may be better suited to their needs. It’s something that new age tech-enabled brands get instinctively says Ben, offering up the example of Media.Monks client Shopify. FMCG giants “are going to take a longer time to turn that ship around, but you mind find other elements with starting testing and learning a new process”.
According to Ben, the ripe and very 2023 example of this is the introduction of ad-funded tiers of premium content streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+. Higher CPMs - $65 and $50 respectively - would automatically rule them out for some more rigid brands even if being positioned next to popular shows and movies like ‘Wednesday’ or ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ might be perfect for that brand.
The responsibility for bringing stakeholders together, educating them and showing them how media is a driver towards achieving business goals lies with agencies.
“Not enough people know enough about the media industry - I think the media industry has been terrible at educating clients around what actually happens and how it works, right?” posits Ben. “When you've got procurement, and the brand client and the legal team all sitting around a contract and saying, ‘let's re-sign a new contract to deliver more of those business outcomes, let's change some of these things that are historical’, then you're you're winning, because everything is geared towards their business.”
But if the industry at large has struggled to educate clients, clients have been learning other things, nonetheless. And the biggest lesson of all was learned during the cliff edge of the covid-19 pandemic. They learned that things could change and change for the better. The challenges facing the industry may have become more fragmented, diverse and nuanced than the strangely globally unifying lockdown era, but the team reckon that marketers are now proactively looking to upend the media orthodoxy.
“I think it was actually a really good education piece for the industry that it can be nimble. Clients began to want that and expect that - and they should,” says Melissa about clients’ desire for change. “I think the reason why so many brands were dissatisfied with what their agencies were doing for them is that they got very, very slow, very, very commoditised, very, very rigid. They became rigid by their own doing, because they've locked themselves into this race to the bottom that incentivizes bulk buying and ‘put the plan in, and then never touch it again’. Brands started wanting and demanding and requiring that level of responsiveness to keep their business running - some agencies are going to be able to rise to the occasion, and some will not. For us, our ambition is to be the most responsive and nimble agency on the planet.”