The Association of National Advertisers’ watershed transparency report, released in July, unleashed a flurry of action in marketing organizations to better get a handle on where their ad spending is going. One of the report’s recommendations: It’s time for big brands to empower a chief media officer to serve as a watchdog.

Big marketers like L’Oréal and Unilever have had high-profile media chiefs on their teams for several years. But industry players say new hires elsewhere have been slow. At an event last week organized by media consultancy ID Comms, insiders said the role was slow to catch on because of worries it could rile agency relationships and complicate internal politics at C-level. While it’s an inevitability that the role will only increase in importance, they said, few brands want to be the guinea pig.

Steve Hyde, a headhunter for 360xec, said he has received a number of briefs for chief media officers but has refused to take them on because many clients see the role as an opportunity to bring more knowledge in to use as a “stick” on their media agency partners.

Rather than a positive opportunity to foster collaboration, it’s being seen as a means for control and an extension of procurement, he said. For Hyde, the CMO is a short-term solution that doesn’t address the radical change happening in the wider industry. The media landscape is becoming increasingly complicated and, with it, a new role for brands and agencies, with the rise of programmatic trading as a prime example.

“What’s the CMO’s role going to look like two to three years from now? That’s the real question. Not what they would do today,” he added.

There is also a concern that a chief media officer is just another high-level figurehead that won’t end up doing much other than drawing a fat salary.

Debbie Morrison, director of consultancy and best practice at ISBA, the advertiser trade body, nods to the rise of so-called zero-based budgeting as evidence of companies coming under pressure to cut headcount and manage budgets “more smartly.” In this context, adding a new role — or creating a whole new department — may be difficult to get off the ground.

“However, in reality, this person will be worth their weight in gold,” she said. “They’ll pay off their salary and perks many times over by managing things very smartly.”

There’s also the question of where to find a brand-side media chief. Morrison says brands will likely need to poach talent from the limited pool of media agencies, as they’ve been doing already in other specialisms.

“The media world is very complex now,” she said. “It’s impossible to bolt that knowledge on to a marketing manager director role or a procurement person. You need someone who knows the best value.”

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It requires an unusual mix of skills and knowledge. According to Alessandra Di Lorenzo, chief commercial officer for advertising and partnerships at the Lastminute.com group, hiring managers need to keep an open mind when looking to fill these roles.

“It’s important to have someone from the sell side who can advise about how agencies allocate client budgets,” she said. “Only by knowing the dynamics, you can make most of the relationship with that agency group.”

The other issue on the minds of marketers is where the chief media officer should sit in an organization. Should they report to the chief marketing officer or work as their equal?

“What you don’t want to do is add another silo within the business,” said Martin Moll, gm of marketing communications for Nissan in Europe. “Each of those conversations is much more difficult, and it slows you down from thinking about the product, the mission and the customer.”

Image credit: Flickr / Joe Shlabotnik.

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