Time to Shine

Media research has had a bad rap for many years. I have something of an inside track on this as I started my career as a media researcher before moving into comms planning and agency management. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, as pre my research days I had been an agency messenger, but even I could see that that was a career path with limitations.

It’s weird. The media business runs on research and measurement. Consider ratings, readership, viewing, listening and traffic data; take these away and there’s no buying and selling.

And yet media researchers are the poor relation. Historically, they have never been properly valued within most agencies or vendors (yes, there are a very few exceptions); they don’t enjoy the superstar status afforded to those in planning or buying (does ‘Campaign’ have a star media researcher of the year? To save you looking: no).

Until comparatively recently (when Mediatel launched their scheme) there wasn’t an annual set of awards for excellence in their field.

Instead the media research community has spent its time quietly advancing its skills, via bodies like the UK’s MRG, and at conferences like the asi events.

Meantime the buyers and sellers swan around at Cannes, or at the plethora of digital conferences where they discuss … well, I’m not sure what exactly, but it all sounds very new and shiny and (judging by the output) often lacks real world application.

What media researchers do is so fundamental, so important to the business as a whole that they deserve to be listened to, praised and celebrated. And recently there are signs that might be about to happen.

Media agencies have since the start been labelled as buying shops – it’s still how many advertisers refer to them. They are seen to exist to buy cheaply. This may be unfair (it is unfair) but it’s a fact.

The reason that this misconception continues is simple. Agencies have (certainly until recently) done little to counter the perception.

Imagine yourself as an agency CEO. You are charged with raising your revenues, which could mean increasing the price at which you sell your services to your clients, and to win any new business at a higher fee. Tough assignment.

But – you have a choice. Option one: demonstrate the worth of what you do, the value of your planning supported by your investment in research. Justify your fee. Act like a management consultancy (it’s a model you always say you aspire to).

Or hold your fee, secure in the knowledge that you can beat up a few media vendors for a few extra percentage points of undeclared rebate.

One is hard, but the right thing to do, as some of our best independent agencies demonstrate.

The other is easy and sweeps the whole dreary matter under the carpet for your successor to find one happy day.

That happy day has come. The agency model is slowly changing post the ANA / Jon Mandel affair. The biggest guys have cleaned up their act; the secondary players, including those owned by some of the top holding companies have not.

Change is in the wind. Planning is moving front and centre, and not just in pitches. Even the most dedicated buying-led managements have realised that this is essential as more and more advertisers take a look at what’s been going on and react by taking elements of the media function in-house.

You can bring buying and systems in-house a great deal easier than you can creative thinking. Creative thinkers thrive in a culture of creativity – which tends to mean agencies over advertisers.

Creative thinking in a media agency tends by and large to be the province of the planners.

And what fuels planning? Research.

Media research has been focused on the buying and executional end of the business – via the currency metrics. These remain fundamental and essential.

But the exciting bit, the bit advertisers are crying out for (so much so that their UK trade body ISBA is actively driving its own initiative, Project Origin) is around planning considerations.

Time to step forward, media research chaps. Time to shine.

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