I was brought up in creative agencies.
They had good points. They had bad points.
I now work with the media folks. They have good and bad too.
I really never thought I’d end up in a media agency though.
Then again, there was a time I was sure I’d never get married, be a parent or go to a Queen concert.
Now, beware of post rationalization, confirmation bias and the general way the brain makes you feel good about yourself, but I’m becoming more of the opinion that, maybe, media agencies are set fairer for today’s world than the various guises of today’s creative agencies.
Here’s some reasons why. Based purely of my experience of working for some from both sides and working with even more.
Let’s get one thing clear though, we’re all in marketing which means for the average person, we’re about as respected as estate agents. Still, if you work in this industry, may as well work on the side of the least evil.
Media agencies are much nicer to their staff. While there one or two creative or digital agencies that don’t work mental hours, have a culture that nurtures and invests in their people, encourages staff to respect each other and is grounded in the reality of the people their work, is aimed at, creative agencies work much, much longer hours, tend to make their people redundant more quickly, celebrate loud mouth extroverts rather than talent and thoughtfulness, don’t train staff, expecting them to sink or swim, and generally chew their people up and spit them out.
And they use creativity as an excuse for leaving things until the last minute and being disorganized as hell.
Media does have its share of extroverts, there is still the odd late night and any service business is only one phone call away from having to shed staff, but they are much nicer places to work. Hours are more regular, yet all the work gets done. They manage to be much more flexible around the lives of their people. They invest a lot more in training and staff development. There are whole search departments full of shy science types who would melt in front of clients. And people do seem to have a life.
This matters, because tired is stupid. Knackered, irritable people who never actually get out and experience the lives of the people they are selling to will simply not perform.
And no amount of concrete hot desk tables, bean bags and ironic t-shirts will make up for it.
Because media agencies respect their people, they also respect experience. So you’ll find far more mature people in media agencies than creative and digital species. Creative agencies, in general, seem to value the young and, even in a world where they’re competing against other professions that are now seen as more lucrative and even cooler for the newer generations– tech companies, The City to name but two, they don’t hold on to experience. Now a variety of studies have shown that you can’t fake experience, you need 10,000 hours of practice to be great a something. Moreover, in a little bubble forever pronouncing the death of this and the death of that year in year old, the more sane voices who see through the bullshit and have seen it all before are very valuable indeed.
The number of older folks with kids and stuff in media agencies means their employers just can’t get away with working their staff to death and sane, humane culture built on respect, temperance and thoughtfulness just naturally bubbles up.
You need your young blood to shake things up and inject fresh energy in an organization. But that constant renewal needs to be balances by experience.
I’m sure the love of rash youth is why creative and digital agencies get all excited about the latest wheeze- they don’t have the frame of reference. Like the social media gurus who have never heard of Gossage, the Behavioural Economics proponents, the folks who suddenly discover co-creation and God know what else.
Everyone in media is a doer. Creative agencies have departments. Account folks ‘handle the client’ with varying appreciation for planning, creative, developing or whatever. Creatives are probably as far away from pure craft as they have ever been. With art directors who cannot draw and writers who cannot write copy. It’s for the studio to visualize stuff and the suits to check copy. While the planners have stopped getting their hands dirty with research and don’t know how telly ads get made, the nuances of casting and many don’t go to client meetings that often. Digital folks of course, just sit in dark corners coding. I stereotype a bit, but you get the gist and probably recognize it.
Now media organisations of course have their departments. But in each one, there is no client handler who can get away without knowing the minute details of their chosen field, and actually doing an element of the planning or buying themselves, based on good evidence based consumer insight. In a world where innovation and content ideas don’t just come from creative agencies, they also need to have ideas too.
If anything, as the media landscape has become more complex, the craft skills have gone up. I’m still intimidated by the complexity and hard work that goes into good TV buying, it’s every bit as skillful and demanding as the shoot for the stuff that will fill the space bought.
But putting together an integrated plan across channels, that will achieve cut through and makes the most of a list of available channels, innovations and prototypes that grows daily, that takes mix of deep knowledge, insight, imagination, rigour and hard work. And then the same people who have done the thinking need to sell it in and make it all happen.
And when you’re at the sharp end of what’s going in your field, when you have to do so much yourself, rather than hand it all over to another department and forget about it..it keeps you at the top of the game, forces you to evolve, which in turn means the organization is always moving forward.
Media is where the innovation happens as the great work by Steven Johnson shows,
great leaps forward come from people building on others’ work. It comes from good people being around lots of other good people. Now some creative agencies are pretty good at bringing in other talents. Film makers, tech geniuses etc. But mostly, they jealously guard the creative project.
My little three year old girl is very independent and insists on doing everything ‘all by myself’. It’s only when she gets in a terrible mess that she asks for help. It can be very entertaining, but watching her nearly strangling herself with her vest before finally holding it out and saying’ fink Daddy should do it’ doesn’t get us to swimming lessons on time now does it?
Media agencies HAVE to work with media owners. We have no choice but to work with the very, very best in their field. Who knows social media better than Twitter? Exactly. Working in TV, especially on a sponsorship or partnership thingy, well, you’re working with people who know how to entertain people and make content people want to experience.
So not only do you get the very best advice and stuff to play with, all that cleverness and expertise constantly challenges and rubs off on you.
If you want to be good, hang around good people. Media agencies have that in the job description
Media agencies have no choice but to constantly evolve. When you strip away the hype media agencies still think hard about where to buy space, and then buy it. They get paid for leading overall strategy a little more, they brief content more, they even make some of it, but it comes down to planning and buying media. That media is changing every day. The pace is only getting faster. Which means that evolution is built into a media agency’s business model. We’re automatically at the cutting edge and we know what is useful and what it Emperor’s New Clothes because we have to constantly talk to, collaborate and negotiate with the people who at right at the very sharp end of it all. We still sell TV plans of course, we still recommend 30 second commercials as the most efficient buy, because they are. But we know everything about sky Adsmart, we know that Programmatic TV is a possibility and that it’s likely TV might be bought on impressions, like digital, in the near future. Just as Twitter works directly with us on our briefs and tells us all about what they have in BETA
Media agencies are not blinded by the word ‘brand’. At some point, creative agencies began to talk about ads that disrupted the category, that build brand values as credible objectives themselves. They justified ads that didn’t necessarily result in hard business effects by pointing to results in brand tracking studies. They began doing ‘brand planning’ and messing around with brand essences and such. Media agencies have bought brand ads of course, but as they’ve been charged more and more with taking responsibility for strategy on some level, because they don’t get to do brand planning, they don’t make brand ads and don’t create brand onions, they naturally look for real problems to solve, rather than brand problems, and then use their powers to solve them in the most efficient and effective way they can. The problem with being the custodian of the brand, is that you tend to think ‘brand’ is the problem, solution and Holy Grail all in one.
So there you have it. Maybe I’m showing a new bias based on my new circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong. There are fantastic creative and digital agencies that are just brilliant to work with and ace to be employed by. Just as there are terrible media agencies, some which are relics from the ‘luvvie age’ some that are blatantly steal partner agency turf. Many that don’t plan, they simply justify the biggest media budget they can get away with.
But I am beginning to think as a general rule, they are increasingly where it’s at.