Media Buying Briefing: Exploring the many ways creative and media are coming back together

This Media Buying Briefing covers the latest in agency news and media buying for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Monday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

You’ve probably heard this before: The best creative in the world will have little impact if it’s not in the appropriate media channel — and the best media channel is likely a waste of ad dollars if the creative stinks. 

That maxim holds truer than ever, and is playing out across the agency landscape as creative shops add to or enhance their media side offerings, and media agencies partner up with creative and other agencies to return to full service for clients. As Digiday coined 15 months ago, lo-fi rebundling is upon us. 

There are several things at play bringing about this wave, including the use of attention metrics, which delivers insights on better outcomes in both the creative and media sides of the business. The growth of retail media networks also inspired moves by agencies to bolster media. But sometimes it’s kismet and connection that brings about the expansion. 

Case in point: last summer, media shop Crossmedia and creative agency Joan, which had worked together in informal partnerships thanks to cross-staff familiarity, formally launched JoanXmedia. A full service offering that’s formally housed in Joan, the unit has already landed a new client that neither side of the partnership would identify. It’s also worked with S&P Global together — a client both agencies had relationships with.

“I always yearned for correcting what Lisa [Clunie, Joan’s CEO] and I like to call the original sin of advertising, which is when media left the building and creative and media separated,” said Kam Asghar, Crossmedia’s CEO and co-founder. “oftentimes, creative strategy and media strategy are just done independently. More than done together. It’s more purpose. And then of course, you have upper and lower funnel media. And you need holistic thinking, you know, through the funnel.”  

Added Clunie: “We’re building a singular process. So that when a client comes in through the JoanXmedia door, they’re met with a single strategic operating program, instead of here’s the media operating program, here’s the creative operating program.” 

The trend in expanding the media business is perhaps one of necessity too, as agencies find it becoming harder to make money off creative or production, explained Rob Douglas, founder and CEO of Left Off Madison, an independent media shop. “Clients who are leaning on creative-only agencies are asking them, ‘Do you do media?’ Most will say, ‘No,‘” Douglas said.

Conversations like those are what drive Douglas’ firm and other independents to attempt linking up with their strategic and creative counterparts. In the case of Left Off Madison, for instance, Douglas mentioned wanting to connect their president with a former colleague and co-CEO of creative shop Malka, which doesn’t do media currently.

“We could be the white-label solution for [Malka],” Douglas added. “If that happens, in time and with enough success, they will build out their own media.”

That’s exactly what independent creative agency FerebeeLane did back in 2017 when it hired Katie Driggs to launch its media unit — and now, seven years later she’s got a full-time staff of three and an intern. Interestingly, Driggs said the agency is able to offer a full gamut of media-side services (except for influencer work, which is handled by the firm’s PR team), which is unusual for a smaller agency. But she added there’s always room to grow — notably taking programmatic in house (currently it’s done through managed services) and cross-screen media measurement.

“Being able to get a better understanding of that duplication is just going to make our buys so much more efficient,” said Driggs, vp and director of media. FerebeeLane went from three media clients to 11 today, Driggs added, with 380% growth in media spend over the same duration. 

Milwaukee-based Hanson Dodge has a similar story, having launched a media unit right before the pandemic — but it recently brought aboard Jeremy Whitt, whose eye was caught by the fact that the agency was hiring his own media people at his prior gig at BVK, another Milwaukee shop. 

“What I’ve seen is, creative ideas can’t necessarily solve all [client] problems by themselves,” said Whitt who joined H-D last October as vp and executive media director, and had a big hand in winning new client RuffWear, which was looking for full-service solutions. “Or creative teams are working in such isolation, they don’t really know what’s possible from a data perspective, or what partnerships media companies are willing to have. Can you really bring those ideas that will beat the competition if they’re not working in harmony?”

As with FerebeeLane, Whitt said building a programmatic/trading desk offering is currently in the works, and media spend now makes up a quarter of the agency’s revenue.  

Retail media’s explosive growth helped convince Cathy Shaffner to join retail-heavy Detroit agency Sussman as its president just two weeks ago, bringing her experience to bear for its automotive and furniture clients. “What I was looking for in my next position was something that allowed me to bring the expertise that I have amassed over the past 30 years in media and marketing, but also continue in the retail space because it’s super important to me,” she said. 

In early 2023, creative and strategic agency Geletka+ also formalized its media team to establish a new media arm as it expanded those offerings. John Geletka, founder and chief experience officer, saw it as a means to develop “better work, a results-focused team and more innovation” within the company.

Geletka mentioned that clients are asking for more support on media, and for them it is making things simpler by having one agency to manage their spending. But the combination of these strategies may also lead to better outcomes beyond the return on ad spend.

“Creative gets better, faster and smarter,” Geletka said. “Goals get established earlier, and it’s way more fun to create truly integrated campaigns for the team.”

But Geletka is also cautious about preventing media from becoming a “siloed business [that is] separate from creative.” The focus is, rather, making sure media becomes integrated with the creative process – and not just there for short-term profits, he explained.

In other words, just another case of lo-fi rebundling. 

Color by numbers

Retailers may be taking over the Super Bowl as social media becomes an increasingly important extension of marketing efforts in the Big Game. Last year, Chinese e-commerce app Temu started advertising in the event – and this year Etsy will join the competition. Based on MediaRadar’s study, Temu is by far outspending its competitors in the Super Bowl. — AS

Some highlights:

  • Of the $624 million spent by Etsy and Temu so far, Temu increased spending by 1,000% year over-year compared to a 17% decrease for Etsy.
  • Temu has been investing heavily in social media, which accounted for 76% of its ad spend.
  • Of the $624 million spent by these two retail companies from January to November 2023, $417 million (or 67%) went toward paid social advertising, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and X.
  • In a 2023 study, Captiv8 saw the #SuperBowlLVII hashtag on TikTok generating over two times the views of the actual Super Bowl. Doritos’ TikTok campaign (#DoritosFlatLife) in 2021 amassed 3.9 billion views by the end of the event.

Takeoff & landing

  • Stagwell media agency Assembly made several global and regional leadership moves: James Appleby was promoted from U.K. managing partner to managing director, reporting to UK/Europe CEO Matt Adams; Ryan Garner was named the agency’s first-ever chief activation officer in MENA, reporting to that region’s CEO Faisal Dean; and Paul Keeble was named global CFO, reporting to Global CEO Rick Acampora.
  • Havas Media Network tapped new leadership for CSA, its customer data activation unit, naming Jamie Seltzer to an expanded role as global evp of CSA and Mx Analytics. 
  • Account movement: press reports last week indicated that Gap put its U.S. media business in review, estimated at $190 million — the incumbent is Omnicom’s PHD … Sun care brand Supergoop tapped Publicis’ Digitas as its U.S. media AOR since Jan. 1; AKDM had handled most of its digital work. 

Direct quote

“Unbundling media from creative — that whole trend had been, you go get media experts, you go get creative experts. I’ve lived in that world for so long of how media plays more downstream. Now we’ve come full circle, and I recognize the importance of how media needs to sit at the table with creative — it has to play together upstream.”

— Cathy Shaffner, new president at Detroit full-service agency Sussman.

Speed reading

  • As the Color by Numbers above indicates, Kimeko McCoy explains the reasons advertisers will still involve X in their Super Bowl marketing plans. 
  • Fresh from his coverage out of CES 2024, Marty Swant looked at some of the latest ways AI is being worked into new forms of tech. 
  • Ronan Shields explains how The Trade Desk and Google’s Privacy Sandbox are just latest example of how one defines frenemy.

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