Where Are All The Agency Experts?

Last week’s Cog Blog was all about how it seems that far and away the majority of agencies seem to have a blind spot when it comes to following their own advice about marketing during a recession. Most are regrettably silent when it comes to promoting their own values and client offerings.

One Cog Blog reader, a Mr N Manning from London (the majority of you will know Nick, founder of Manning Gottlieb OMD, and now a much lauded consultant) wrote in to make the point that agency leaders now keep such a low profile as to be almost invisible.

There was a time when agency media leaders could be relied upon to comment on anything and everything related to advertising and media matters. After all, we were supposed to have an opinion on the matters shaping our own business.

Nick himself was everywhere, as indeed were many others. Even I used to make regular appearances in national newspapers and on television (and this was in the days before niche TV channels).

But now? With one or two notable exceptions, like GroupM’s Karen Blackett and the7stars’ Jenny Biggam, we’ve become invisible beyond talking to ourselves at industry events and in the trade press.

We seem strangely reticent on industry matters too. For example, this week the ISBA and PwC released a thorough, and at first sight thoroughly excellent report into the online advertising supply chain. Two remarkable facts struck me.

First, 51% of advertiser spend ends up with the intended publisher. Half. We’re in Lord Leverhulme / John Wanamaker territory here (all depends where you were taught..) with the famous ‘half my adspend is wasted I just don’t know which half’ quote.

Well, if 49% never arrives in front of the intended audience then it’s pretty fair to say that half is indeed wasted.

At a time when publishers are struggling this is an outrageously high number.

And then, PwC concluded that “taking other visible costs such as DSP/SSP fees and other technology costs, 15% of advertiser spend – an “unknown delta”, representing around one-third of supply chain costs – could not be attributed.”

So, 15% vanished. And after 18 months work even PwC, even 15 of the world’s biggest advertisers, 8 of the (presumably) largest agencies, 12 of the largest publishers, 5 DSP’s and 6 SSP’s couldn’t cast any light on where it might have gone.

My LinkedIn and Twitter feeds lit up. From a digital journalist claiming PwC are somehow conflicted (presumably because they sell stuff), through to numerous members of the digiterati shrugging this off as ‘old news we all already know’ (not sure that that makes it alright) through to people lecturing us on how players in the banana supply chain need to be paid (no, really).

In amongst the nonsense was a strong piece from someone who genuinely knows what he’s talking about, Wayne Blodwell from The Programmatic Advisory.

Wayne made the following extraordinary point (extraordinary in that it had to be made at all): “Good contractual frameworks mean that brands can get insight into how their agency makes money from their media spend.”

Now, it may be that I follow all the wrong people, but as of now I haven’t noticed a single agency CEO commenting for good or ill on ISBA’s work.

If you’ve noticed otherwise, and I’m wrong then do please let me know and I’ll issue a correction.

If agencies want to be seen as strong strategic partners, if they want to be mentioned in the same breath as the management consultancies then thought leadership is important.

To restate – here’s the UK’s advertiser trade body, a well-funded and respected organisation, along with their appointed consultancy, PwC finding that the current online advertising eco-system manages to cream off 49% of a client’s adspend before it reaches its intended destination, and literally lose 15% of it.

And no agency has an opinion on this?

This silence is nothing new (think back to the ANA’s work on transparency and the lack of comment from agencies besides complaining that research into their behaviours was being done in the first place), or the WFA’s work on online transparency, or egta’s initiative on audience measurement, or indeed ISBA’s Project Origin.

Zippo.

Is it perhaps that the holding companies are frightened of upsetting the mighty platforms (remember this, when IPG publicly rebuked Initiative’s CEO for daring to criticise Facebook)?

Or is it that the current breed of media agency leaders are comfortable debating high concepts amongst themselves and less prepared to discuss the channels themselves?

To paraphrase the late great Kenneth Williams, we’ve all become specialists in less and less. Eventually we’ll be experts in nothing.

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