International media today is a game played for high stakes. At EMM, we are always talking to advertisers. Our year-end survey of advertisers' attitudes gives very revealing feedback. We get a glimpse of major multinational advertisers' hopes, fears, ambitions, concerns and frustrations, as they grapple with the growing complexity of the media world, and the agency services that connect their brands to those media. |
Risk and reward
Compiling the survey report, and reading back advertisers' verbatim comments, it occurred to us that media was very similar to playing a game of snakes and ladders, with lots of unexpected ups and downs. Often starting out with big budgets, ambitious objectives and clear strategies, senior advertisers still seem to see media as a minefield, ever ready to spring reverses, pitfalls and traps for the unwary. Every ladder laboriously climbed risks putting their brand in the path of some insidious snake. Hence the idea for our seasonally-influenced snakes and ladders game. As 2004 draws to a close, we see the opportunity for a timely reflection on the risks inherent in managing big international media budgets, and the rich rewards if you get it right. The light-hearted parlour-game format may seem frivolous, but the intention is serious enough. Admapreaders who roll the dice and move their counters up (and down) the snakes and ladders board, will recognise some of the day-to-day problems, dilemmas and opportunities that beset them in real life. At EMM we certainly recognise these dilemmas, since our day-to-day business is focused solely on helping advertisers to climb the ladders and avoid the snakes.
More choice, less choice
So to our survey. At one level, many advertisers have never had it so good. Advertising media have seen an exponential growth of choice, both for consumers and users of the media. Conventional forms of electronic, print and outdoor media are now complemented by a panoply of multi-channel and internet driven communication and selling tools, creating a maze of message-vehicle choices. At the same time, choice has narrowed in other ways. Recent mergers and acquisitions among agencies mean that over half of worldwide media spending now goes through fewer than a dozen media buying entities, owned in their turn by a half-dozen mega marketing services groups. Media owners have followed the consolidation trend, with media selling power concentrated each year in fewer hands. Advertisers and agencies are able to access more media but through fewer purchasing points. This two-way pull – more choice, less choice – leaves advertisers in a quandary. Promotions aside, advertising media typically represent 60–80% of a brand's variable costs, and yet senior advertiser personnel find themselves distracted by a dauntingly broad range of day-to-day issues, from pricing and distribution to packaging and new product development. Media is just one part of the things they have to worry about. In a typical client organisation, media is lucky to get 2% of senior executive thinking time. This is a worry, because advertisers' media concerns are very real. Have we got the right media agency? Are we controlling them sufficiently? Are we motivating them correctly? How do we know we are winning? Where is all the money going? What are we getting for it? What to do about runaway media costs in some markets, and deflation in others? How to handle growing pressure from the competition? Global or local controls? And so on. The questions are never ending, and while many of the answers are easily available, agencies do not get enough quality time with the clients to discuss the answers.
What advertisers say
Over half of the sample, which responded to a 40–60-minute interview, hold global responsibilities including media, with a geographic spread spanning Europe/ Middle East, the Americas, and Asia Pacific. Just under half of respondents are focused on their domestic market. Four-fifths of them hold senior marketing or media management posts, the remainder being charged with purchasing or procurement. Collectively these individuals spend around US$10 billion a year on media, so we asked them about agency remuneration systems, accountability and getting the right media services for their particular needs.
There was a widespread general conviction that carrots work better than sticks. Even among the PRIP enthusiasts, however, the 'ladder' of incentive had to be weighed against the potential 'snake' of complexity and overlap; 'Too many mixed remuneration schemes and you lose control', was a typical comment. Most of the clients wanted to 'keep it simple', though this often ran counter to the complicated needs of realistic cost and quality benefit assessments.
Winning pitches, climbing rungs
What do advertisers look for when they go shopping among the media agencies? In the respondents' own words, it is a combination of individual and team professionalism ('bright people doing good stuff'), insight ('understand our consumers rather than our sector'), affinity with the client ('enthusiasm, motivation and passion'), innovation ('ideas we've not seen before') and dependability ('I need to trust them like my bank'). Most cited client turn-offs in media agency pitches? 'Not listening' and 'Ignoring the brief', 'Senior [agency] people rabbiting on about structure', speeches from 'People we know are not going to work on our business', 'Tools that never get used … and don't work anyway', 'Lack of preparation', and – a big tactical no-no, this – 'Offering last-minute extra discounts when they think they're going to lose'. Beyond the vitally important people qualities mentioned earlier, clients look for informed curiosity, responsiveness, discretion and a real desire to build a long term relationship with the brand and the advertiser. Agencies need to impress more throughout the pitching process, not just on the day, and to think more carefully about selecting the people to represent their agency. Much to ponder as 2004 draws to a close.
EMM, one of the world's top media audit and management companies, has a full range of services from media auditing solutions for measuring advertising effectiveness to Media agency selection and specialist Pitch Management.
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