Mindshare POV: Does the media agency model need reinventing?

By Nick Ashley. Chief Client Officer of Mindshare UK

Media agencies are always re-inventing. And that’s a good thing.

Listening to one of the first sessions at Media 360, ‘Time for a Rebirth – does the media agency model need reinventing?’ has prompted me to reflect.

Over the last eighteen months, for the first time in my career, I have been asked a number of times whether a media agency is still the place to be.

A series of headlines has prompted the questions: ISBA’s new 51 page contract and Debbie Morrison’s inflammatory comments about where the interests of media agencies lie; the scathing From Mad Men to Sad Men, by Hall & Partners and the IPA, which revealed a slew of dissatisfied clients fed up with agencies not understanding their world, their customers’ world, or the new communications world; the recent Media Sense report which painted a bleak picture for agencies with in-housing on the rise and clients saying they expect to be using agencies less by 2020; the so-called ‘brain drain’ to media owners with high-profile ex-agency leaders making waves on the other side.


From time to time it requires a resolute attitude, a smile on your face, and a willingness to rise above the self-serving parts of our industry, but yes I absolutely do believe that media agencies are the place to be.

Is it time for a rebirth and reinvention? Any of us who have worked at media agencies for a period of time will tell stories of constant reinvention and change, and that’s a good thing. We’re having that very conversation at Mindshare at the moment, and there are three key areas we are talking about.

Putting the audience first. The lazy call ‘ad-blocking’ a publisher problem. It is not a publisher problem, it is an audience problem. Too many examples of badly targeted, poorly produced content, retargeting nightmares and examples of “brand” and “performance” planning as if the audience would know the difference. Rather than a reinvention, we need to celebrate what media agencies have always been really strong at – great consumer insight, a genuine understanding of what makes audiences tick (and what doesn’t), and as Sky’s Andrew Mortimer called for – “a return to the craftsmanship of media planning.”

Being more human. At the end of every Facebook post, every YouTube pre-roll and every DOOH screen is a human. Data and technology have revolutionised our industry, but I have yet to meet a machine whose heart beats with the same emotion as ours. If we forget the human, we end up creating sterile experiences for our customers, because the data tells us to and the technology lets us. Mood, receptivity, and emotional context are as important dimensions as time and place in media planning. 

Being objective. I detest the phrase ‘media neutrality’. It’s insipid, it’s bland, it’s out of date and most importantly it’s not what clients want. In my experience, clients want their agencies to be objective not neutral. To have a clear point of view, to help guide them through an increasingly walled garden view of the world, to provide provocation and to deliver leadership without the obvious answer.

So, it is time to reinvent. But it’s always time to reinvent at media agencies, and that’s what makes them such enlightening places to be. Let’s reinvent for reasons of positive change not from a basis of fear and scaremongering. As Facebook’s Ed Couchman said, “media agencies have always proved themselves to be fantastic at reinvention, with an absolute focus on people and insight.”