MEC’s president of global solutions Eamonn Store believes that media agencies don’t need to flinch at the rise of big data and ad tech companies. Before joining WPP’s Mediaedge: CIA in 2005, Store had a long career in media buying and planning that included his managing the European client services division of Starcom Mediavest. Store sees the influx of data into marketing as an opportunity for media agencies to seize a more strategic role with clients struggling to understand and put into practice all the insights gleaned from digital behavior.
Ad technology has, in some ways, eclipsed some elements of strategy-building that were formerly the exclusive domain of creative and media agencies. How has the relationships and roles of the CMO and media agency survived the onslaught of big data?
This is what we see as defining the future, the rise of data.The CMOs have so much coming at them, not just from their board and from the shareholders, but also as the structure of business is changing. They are held much more accountable than before, and their roles are much more high profile. It has just changed so dramatically and a lot of that is about learning how to deal with the flow of data in the stream and data out in the world. The biggest problem that our clients are facing today is knowing what to do with it all. They want to know where do they get the right insight. Which data is valuable and what’s not? Some have said that creative agencies aren’t really the stars in this arena, that they have a lot of style but not a lot of substance, they believe that creative agencies are not where data sits comfortably. Then there’s the big data companies that can handle the data, but they tend not to have the strategic front end. They tend to look to other parties to pull that strategy out of the data. On the one side, you have the consultants that tend to tell you what to do in terms of strategy, but they haven’t really done it themselves.Then you have the media agencies, and we tend to sit at the heart of all of this. We’ve spent years fighting with the creative agencies over the communications space, about who owns the rights to all of that communications planning. But really, now, the more interesting side is not that, it’s the business planning side. And that brings us back to this central idea, that the reason that media people think that we have a place in this world as an agency is that brand clients have a need for someone to sit in the heart of all of this, to take a leadership position and help clients simplify their world in terms of data and in terms of ad technology.
Are CMOs openly intimidated by the amount of data, as well as the complexity of the ad tech market?
If you talk to a lot of these CMOs and ask them what keeps them up at night, they will tell you it’s wondering how to see the big picture in terms of data and ad technology. The market is so fragmented, not just from a media consumer perspective but from a data perspective, and across the range of channels. Someone has to be in the middle of this and help cut through the clutter. And that’s about data, about structuring these technologies so that clients can have better access to data. There’s a huge opportunity in this industry in just doing the basics really, really well.
Nonetheless, data is becoming increasingly complex for brands and marketers. How can it be simplified and yet sufficiently rich in insight at the same time?
That’s the challenge that you have as a media agency.You have to take those streams of data, from online, from retail, etc and get them into one place so that we can look at them with the client and gain real insight, to see what elements are working together to drive, ultimately, sales or another brand objective. Once that’s solved then you can really move into more of a consultant territory, to larger strategy, when you’ve solved the basic conflicts. Then you can begin to see how TV impacts social, for example, how social impacts retail- things that really have genuine meaning for brands.
What does the media agency evolve into when big data problems are solved?
We used to call it coms planning, back when we got hung up on competing with creative agencies for those rights, but its really not about that anymore. It’s really about bridging the bit between building strong intelligence capabilities and the conversation about media. We have this thing in New York, where if the conversation goes beyond media, to data, we tend to shut up. That shouldn’t be- with all of the data we have, we should be leading that conversation. In order to do that, we have to train our people a different way. We have to train them to understand much more deeply what clients business issues are.
Is the Silicon Valley-Madison Avenue divide really mythology?
The mist has cleared a bit, after years of media companies trying to define our roles. Data companies are not our competition. The debate shouldn’t be about owning the data, its about having access to all of it, and getting a true picture of what’s happening in the consumer world. Someone has to be there to manage all of the data — translate the value of that data into a real, actionable insight. That’s where we, as a media company, have a unique opportunity.