Blog | Tammy Bondanza 03.02.17

Today’s Best Media Agencies Go Way Beyond Media

So much has changed in media in the past five years that it’s all too easy to choose a media agency you believe is creative, and strategically analytical – or promotes itself as “revolutionary” – but is operating in outdated ways that could severely damage your campaign outcomes. How do you avoid being dazzled by a slick team and presentation that are only an inch deep? Based on my 20 years’ experience in the media world, here are three best practices.

First: Make integration a must-have. When you interview agencies, ask to see specific examples of how Media is integrated with Analytics, with Strategy, with User Experience, and especially with Creative. And for the record:

  • Media and Creative co-located in the same building does not mean integrated.
  • Having creative dictate what ad units to purchase based on their existing specs or designs does not mean integrated.
  • Media and Creative following parallel brainstorming paths and then sharing ideas in your office does not mean integrated.


Integrated means Media and Creative ideating together from the very beginning of a campaign, sharing audience insights, brand benefits and placement innovations that speak to customers and prospects in new ways. You’ll never get that kind of exchange if Media is on the eighth floor and Creative is on floors 12 and 13 – or if you discover that the two don’t have any chemistry because they are just meeting for the first time as they work on your business!

Believe it or not, this does happen. A big agency brought in a sister company to a pitch because they HAD to have expertise in a certain capability. They never took the time to get together prior to the client meeting, so when informal introductions were happening as people were milling around the room, you can guess what happened: an agency person introduced themselves to another agency person because they thought they were a client! Major faux pas. The scary thing is, agencies can fake integration easily in a scripted formal pitch, so look for organic moments of collaboration and chemistry.

Think about it: which would you rather do: co-create a terrific campaign with two groups working as one, or serve as schoolroom monitor managing Creative and Media egos that are clearly at loggerheads?

Second: Work with someone who thinks in terms of User Experiences, not “media placements.” User experience goes way beyond clickthrough to a website, but you wouldn’t know it based on some of the uninspired, incomplete media plans I see. Your team should be framing your campaign assignment by thinking about your business needs and the desired end result for prospects, then working with a User Experience strategist (as well as Creative) to think through buyer journeys that bring value to those prospects.

The kind of work I’m talking about jumps from theory to practice when you pose and solve a series of questions:

  • Are we sure our target audience really is our target audience? What if we put a pixel on our site prior to the campaign and evaluate audience composition over time so we can evolve based on the long-term value of best responders versus solely research/persona work?
  • If our target engages with an experience online, where do they land?
  • What sort of content do they find when they land, and what should they do next?
  • If a visitor filled out a form, what else do we have to offer them in the moment: access to an analyst report, a video, a webinar? Since interest is sure to fall off later, how will we deepen engagement once we’ve won their attention?
  • Does the experience we offer need to be something that hasn’t been invented yet? Can the agency craft something new and still be a good steward of our resources?
  • What search terms are we optimizing against? Are they too remedial for our target audience?


And it should go without saying that if your media agency can’t surprise you by telling you about a new place where your audiences are gathering online, they’re not working hard enough.

Third: Choose a Media partner who doesn’t just give you what you asked for. Your Media partner should be giving you counsel from the first meeting, not after the marketing program has taken shape. Media is complicated today, and without even realizing it you may be directing your agency down the wrong path. How?

  • I’ve heard clients say they want to fill the top of the sales funnel and make sure we deliver excellent cost per acquisition (CPA). Hold the phone! If you really are developing a program to fill the top of the funnel, your key performance indicator (KPI) is cost per view or cost per qualified visit, not cost per acquisition. CPA is a down-funnel measurement. So if your Media partner smiles graciously and says, “You know, I think what you mean to ask for is more like this…” don’t let your ego get the best of you. Media is planned/bought differently depending on the goal – front of funnel or CPA. If it is both, that’s ok too, but have a conversation upfront with realistic expectations/strategic options regarding each goal.
  • If you’ve saddled Media with creative that has a weak call to action, or lands the user in a completely discontinuous world – or has no call to action whatsoever (yup, just saw a program like that this week) – expect some pushback. And appreciate it.
  • A client said they have a brand launch and want a larger number of website visits tied to those media dollars in a short timeframe. A competitor’s response was to offer a majority radio buy with a print overlay. Radio is great as a broad-based awareness tactic, but not for a brand launch focused on generating site visits lightning-quick – that’s just not going to happen. We showed them that math is math, and their website goal was a bit of a fantasy based on their budget. Then we got into the details of our program, including data-driven tactics with realistic goals and/or necessary budgets based on research and mathematical formulas.


And what happened in the example just above? We won the bid, and were recently hired by a client who delivered what I consider to be the ultimate compliment: “The big agency brought in a bunch of junior people who told us what they thought we wanted to hear. You guys came in with a senior team and told us what we needed to do.”

You should judge your Media partner (in fact, your agency partners of any stripe) by nothing less than this standard. Meanwhile, be open to the possibility that the professionals you hire are there to question, inspire, enlighten and deliver. Don’t settle for someone who is going to “yes” you through your campaign. Enjoy the element of discovery, challenge and understanding of your business through the eyes of experienced media professionals. After all, that’s why you’re paying them.

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