MEC’s Chris Senio: Media Needs to Get Creative

The following guest column is by Chris Senio, Partner and Group Director at MEC, the global media agency. Chris has been with MEC for over five years developing digital media strategies for clients like Macy’s and Cadbury Schweppes.

That media consumption continues to fragment is a surprise to no one.  As consumers use an ever-proliferating assortment of devices to read, listen, watch and create content, marketers must adapt their media strategies to ensure they’re continuing to communicate with their customers in relevant and impactful ways.  While this has been well documented, what hasn’t been as thoroughly discussed is how media agencies should be responding. 

About 15 years ago, the big advertising holding companies realized they could operate more efficiently by pulling out the media operations of their various ad agencies and consolidating them into larger, media-specific agencies.  These media agencies could leverage their new-found buying power to better negotiate with publishers and provide lower rates for their clients.  However, this also distanced media buying from its strategic and creative counterparts.

Such a model works well in the world of television where the product being bought and sold is highly commoditized.  Traditional media agencies represent multiple clients, but are essentially buying the same thing for all of them: TV spots.  In the digital world, it’s not as simple.  Digital ads come in many different formats and are not as well standardized, nor is the currency in which they’re traded.  Sure, “banners” are a part of what we buy, but a truly powerful digital campaign aims to create an engaging experience, uniquely tailored to a marketer’s goals and objectives. With so many publishers and technology platforms to choose from, each with their own nuanced creative capabilities, a digital program can manifest itself in countless ways.

I’ve seen the “must-have” digital tableau change numerous times.  Seven years ago, publishers pitched the custom microsite as a means to create the ultimate brand experience.  Five years ago, everyone wanted to build their own MySpace page.  Three years ago, widgets were the tool that would enable a brand to virally spread across the social web. Today, marketers are focused on establishing the right presence on mobile phones and tablets.

Ohm’s Law and Silicon Valley’s start-up culture ensure rapid technical innovation through constantly evolving devices, platforms and software, and with them, their own unique aesthetic demands. As new media channels emerge, marketers must figure out not only how to fit them in their media mix, but even more so, how to paint on entirely new kinds of canvases.

The rise of the DSP and formation of agency trading desks threaten to further separate digital media buying from strategy and creative, just as the birth of media agencies did 15 years ago.  While media agencies need to create new efficiencies in order to remain competitive, they also must be careful to avoid isolating planning and buying functions.  If this trend continues without countervailing efforts to bring strategic and creative expertise in-house, closer to each phase and process, tomorrow’s digital media planners will be ill equipped to best service their accounts.

Media agencies can begin to address this immediately.  They might begin to host workshops in which outside experts can educate planners on new ad units that are gaining acceptance or specific device and publisher offerings that can impact creative demands. Another idea would be to build and maintain an intranet site that serves as an interactive, visual database of different creative executions and their specifications.  However, agencies need to also think about bigger operational and structural changes.  Potentially, agencies might even create entirely new, full-time positions for in-house creative experts.  The crux of the issue is how best to enable media strategists to think critically about the expanding array of creative options and how they deliver against different marketing objectives.

Through a combination of hiring, training and developing talent to understand the creative benefits and limitations of new digital opportunities, planners will be able to successfully navigate the ever-changing landscape and communicate the various needs and requirements for clients’ efforts to thrive in the space.  However, we must not lose sight of the creative opportunity, or we will not fully understand the emerging media touch points our clients are so eager to incorporate into their marketing efforts.

  • Lee Freund

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, Chris. This is a major challenge and opportunity. From what I witnessed every day on the front lines of creative at PointRoll advising brands and agencies, is that the issue you outline is even deeper. Very few creative teams know how to develop digital media creative assets that drive results. Most design on gut feeling rather than best practices or historical learning. They are almost never involved in analyzing and learning from the reporting data available on their work. This is left to media teams who have little to no impact on creative development. Another big problem is that typically it’s a web site designer who is charged with designing digital media creative. Unfortunately, the two require very different skill sets and disciplines. It’s comparable to the different skill sets required to produce a theatrical movie versus a television show. Expertise in ad formats and the metrics they produce (you don’t get the same metrics out of all formats), ad structure and usability is sorely needed to help guide the ideas of creative executives and ensure their amazing concepts do not fail in execution. There is no doubt that media and creative must be brought back together.

  • Devid Woodfin

    Thank you for your nice information. It will help me.