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Tom DenfordMay 25, 20235 min read

Media Capabilities: Adapting to Change

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford



The pace of change!

You’ve heard me say before in this column that the ID Comms team has spent over 10,000 hours with marketers. We have been in the room to hear many of your biggest challenges, frustrations and fears.


There is a common word in all of those challenges, frustrations and fears and that word is ‘change.’ It's become fashionable within agencies, platforms and publishers and on every conference stage to talk incessantly about the pace of change. “There will never be less change than there was yesterday” booms in large font from the latest ‘trends and innovations’ presentation.


Marketers are continually told, "Evolve or die" by these same visionaries and often feel shamed into diverting budgets away from things that worked perfectly well last year thank you into the next shiny object being recommended. It is remarkable, on reflection, how little actually has changed in agencies and publishing in the last ten years.



Who is really changing here?

Contrast that with the advertiser. Over the last decade, nothing has changed more than the marketing department, especially when it comes to communications and especially in media and content. Most media departments (if you can even call them that nowadays) used to have one person in them; the lonely Media Director whose job was mostly internal facing but included what we might call ‘vendor management’ i.e. they managed the agencies who actually did everything. The agency would define the insights, strategy and media plan, then report back once or twice per year with campaign analysis, some good audit results and life was pretty good.


Today, the vast majority of brands have brought some of their agency services in-house and as I wrote about last week, the ANA’s recent analysis of in-housing suggests more marketers are doing it and they are increasingly pleased with the results. The trend, like it or not, is for more change.



How good ARE we at media?

As brands continue to develop their internal media capabilities (we try not to call it in-housing as it implies a zero-sum game), these capabilities provide a valuable opportunity for gaining a competitive advantage. Brands are investing in people, tools, technology, learning, and processes to be better at media internally, granting them greater visibility and control over what was once an opaque process.


But even the best media directors feel that, to an extent, they are building internal media capabilities somewhat blind to what competitive advantage it might give them. In our industry we are heavily reliant on benchmarking things to find the answer.


“How good ARE we at media?” is an important strategic question because media as an activity can give a competitive advantage to brands. In marketing, as we all know, there is no best only better. Brands have to work hard to outperform their competitors with marketing that is either more effective or more cost-efficient. Ideally, both.



Objective assessment

As I mentioned above, getting an honest assessment of the current situation and deciding the right approach is hard. Advertisers can be made to feel anxious about being left behind due to the Terrifying Pace of Change™ within the media industry, leading to a sense of paralysis and lack of clarity about what to prioritize in order to unlock competitive advantage.


Our advice is always to take a strategic view. Allow the time to develop a clear action plan for change based on an assessment of the media operation, benchmarks versus other brands and best practice then a roadmap for addressing the gaps and opportunities to improve.


1 - Start by gathering important information and evidence through interviews, surveys and document analysis to understand your current media capabilities, key challenges and future ambitions. We use a proprietary assessment methodology called the 7Ts which covers all the critical areas of media operations: Talent, Trading, Technology, Thinking, Training, Terms, and Transparency. Through this assessment advertisers gain a deep understanding of their current media operating model and identify key opportunities for improvement and growth.

2 - Based on the assessment findings, we identify the critical actions that need to be taken now, next and in the future to advance your media capabilities. This can include a series of stakeholder workshops to help you design an operating model based on your team’s strengths and create a plan for filling gaps with the right agencies and other external partners.

3 - Finally, we design together a roadmap, made up of clear work-streams, owners and deliverables to secure change at a manageable pace and ensure a competitive advantage in media for your business. 


Build, Buy or Borrow?

In the coming weeks I want to explore with you the next stage of building internal media capabilities: How do you decide what to build internally, what to buy/hire from agencies and how to be resourceful in ‘borrowing’ advice and insights, for example from a consultancy or advisor?


We will use some real life examples so you can consider your own journey to develop your internal media capabilities and have the confidence and peace of mind that your media budgets, capabilities and resources are optimized to work as hard as possible. 



Brands deserve better media

Whether they are managed by an internal team, an external agency or a healthy blend of both, media decisions matter to brands. 


The media industry might evolve quickly but it has not served brands well. In the future, we need to commit to a strategy of better quality media for brands. Let's remind ourselves that we are all in this industry to create value and growth for the brands we serve and love. By doing so, we can be an amazing force for good and create a brighter future for everyone.


So as you progress to build your media capabilities, remember we are all in service of the brands we love, and when brands get the media they deserve they flourish.



When brands flourish, we all win.




This post was featured in ID Comms’ weekly column, Brands Deserve Better Media. Each week, CEO Tom Denford shares insights on media and advertising and inspires us to work together to build a better future for the industry.

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