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In-depth: A peep into the marketer’s mind when finalising a media agency

The credentials matter as it’s always reassuring to see success stories, case studies and awards. But those aren't the only factors. What goes into selecting a media agency? BestMediaInfo.com speaks to top marketers to find out

A media agency helps brands in reaching out to the right audience at the right time and on right platforms. But on what basis does a marketer select its media agency? Of course, the credentials matter. It’s always reassuring to see a deck full of great success stories, important case studies and a bunch of important awards. Every marketer wants to see that because they are confidence-building tools.

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However, those can’t be the only deciding factors. What is a key for most marketers today is what the agency will do for their business because success for other accounts and businesses doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in yours.

Rajendra Agarwal

“Of foremost importance is the agency’s domain and category expertise – media agencies must have a clear picture of the industry and what works and what doesn’t and enable the client to find the right media mix,” said Rajendra Agarwal, Managing Director at Donear Industries.

Rajiv Dubey

Once they understand the brand’s business, they can come and offer advice on the correct strategy to be followed, said Rajiv Dubey, Head Media at Dabur India. “They should understand the brand's business and guide accordingly, looking at the market scenario and what is the best practice available in the market.”

Media agencies have to be quick and nimble while they are working, said Dubey.

Vijay Kaul

Vijay Kaul, DGM, Marketing Communications at Yamaha India, states four factors that play an important role in finalising a media agency.

Strategy: How smartly agencies can decode the brief and sync with on-ground consumer insights and layer with a great idea and solution to address the brief.

Buying power: Rates/ROI are imperatives for marketers. Hence this also becomes one of the essential factors.

People: The team working on the account on a day-to-day basis is more important than the team that works once a year on the pitch. People working on the account should understand the category, brand, new dynamic consumer, market nuances and media thoroughly.

Integrated offering: Not only TV/print/digital, but also one-stop solutions for OOH, activation, cinema, content, ORM, etc.

Piali Dasgupta

“For me, it is really about the vibe I get from the agency. Senior living as a category is nascent in India, and it requires a lot of time, care and attention. It just can’t be treated as any other category or business,” said Piali Dasgupta, Senior Vice-President, Marketing at Columbia Pacific Communities.

Dasgupta stated certain questions that she asks when finalising the agency. “Are they looking at us as just another business and an account that would make their balance sheet healthier or are they approaching our business from a place of empathy, compassion and a real keenness to work with us? Will they go the extra mile for us or would they just be governed by what’s stated in the scope of work? Would they get their best minds and resources to work on our business? Are they as aligned to the mission of our brand as we are?”

Presently, a lot of agencies are given due commissions based on two factors – their core expertise of planning, negotiating and buying media (normally fixed) and their value-added services such as market research, etc (normally variable).

Dasgupta said that for startups and smaller brands, the commission does matter at almost every stage of decision-making. With less humongous media budgets, they end up paying a much higher commission of 10-15%.

Today, every marketer has a sense of the operating level of an agency commission with the kind of budget a brand invests. Quality in agencies plays a vital role, Kaul said. If an agency squeezes below a certain threshold and chases only with lower agency commission, then the quality of people will not be the same.

Why do brands change media agencies?

Fundamentally, if the client and the media agency aren’t on the same wavelength, things go sour pretty fast.

Agencies that show real value in their offering and proposition at a competitive cost would be ahead of the curve. And while this may seem like stating the obvious, Dasgupta feels that a lot of agencies, unfortunately, fail to show value for the retainers they quote.

Kaul believes in long-term partnership rather than changing the agency every two years. However, if the brand’s KPIs are not delivered and marketers don’t get great strategic inputs/service, then they start exploring.

Shefali Khalsa

Shefali Khalsa, Head, Brand and Corporate Communications, SBI General Insurance, said apart from the campaign parameters, if the media agency is not able to get better media rates, when there is an abrupt increase in commissions, and if there is no value addition to the work, these reasons can lead to breaking of agency-client partnership.

Rates are no longer important in the decision of changing an agency after AAAI and IBF joined hands and restricted agencies to pitch based on rates.

Agarwal said a lot of the time, people switch agencies because of difference in opinion on the rollout and poor client servicing. Followed by their poor performance, poor negotiation and if they are unable to crack deals for their client.

According to Dubey, when a client gets to know that he/she can work with an agency whose strategy they have liked, and their future readiness is better than the incumbent agency's strategy, they might plan to change.

“If you change the agency, there could be some advantages which could be derived from the pitch process,” Dubey said.

“The other reason for a change could simply be apathy and negligence. Agencies need to understand that for a brand manager or a marketing manager, his/her brand is like his or her child.

“For an agency, an account could be yet another account. But for the brand manager, it is not. And that is where the conflict lies.

“Having worked on both client and agency side, I have observed over the years that factors such as lack of transparency and integrity, data breach are known to play a part in such decisions,” said Dasgupta.

Marketers want to see a unique point of view expressed through exceptional creativity backed by razor-sharp strategic thinking that is solving a business problem for the long term in the simplest manner is possible.

Marketers’ expectations are changing

The media agency is an extended part of the marketing team. Marketers look at all those factors needed to have in the extended teams — understanding business, quick in execution, solid strategy.

Marketers’ expectations change with a change in consumers’ media habits. Yamaha has started focusing more on digital/performance and content. The brand’s media and content strategy are aligned with the changing landscape.

Earlier, the media agency ruled the roost as information sources were limited. Now, with things becoming more and more transparent, the client has a wealth of knowledge that wasn’t there before.

Agarwal said from being driven by the media agency’s recommendations, the client now has a share of voice for where they envision the brand, the right media mix and to ascertain viable return on investment.

All media buying is largely skewed towards digital platforms. Hence, the expectations have changed from typical OTS to CPC/CPV. Of late, there have been amalgamation with media houses and hence, most media agencies can address both traditional and digital spends.

Dubey said that in the time of lockdown, Dabur’s media agency was available to serve the brand 24*7 round the clock.  “Viewership data, market scenario, viewership patterns, media consumption pattern was evolving very quickly. Once such an evolution happens, media agencies should be able to give data concerning evolving times and consumer behaviour.”

“With all that information gathering and dissemination, agencies have to be great in evolving strategies, understanding the business and execution as these two things matter the most in these times,” Dubey said.

Dasgupta said in pandemic, there is an expectation of maximising impact with minimum spends. This is not easy and can only happen when there is a great innovation. And hence, there is an expectation to innovate constantly. “There is a need to innovate today more than ever before. The freshness of thought, agility coupled with a mindset to innovate and disrupt are what marketers are looking for in this changing environment because brands have realised that they would perish if they cannot innovate.”

Is it easier to finalise a media agency than a creative one?

Yes it's true, media agencies today can get finalised easily, said Kaul. But creative is tough since every brand is unique and has a distinctive audience to address. It is essential the team gets the brand DNA right and aligns with the brand guidelines to craft a great communication strategy.

It is not easier to pick a media agency, said Khalsa.

“Campaign success depends on the creative ad as well as media planning. Rather, I would say that it is difficult to pick and choose the right media agency since the briefs and TGs for campaigns, especially GI, keeps changing the basis of the product. ROI for every penny spent on media is difficult to quantify, typically GRP vs the actual perception /real scenario for management.”

According to Agarwal, for any campaign to run successfully you need a stellar hook and a sound media rollout. Both are equally important for brand stickiness and awareness.

There are different skills sets required for both agencies and, therefore, needs to be compartmentalised based on marketers’ vision for the brand and then followed through. 

Finalising both has their challenges. Ultimately marketers need to do is to ensure that the business gets done, Dubey says.

“The media agency is more number-driven and creative is skill and software-driven. Decision making is different that way.”


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