Media Buying Briefing: Overheard at DMBS ‘No one’s loyal because you’re cheap’

Last week’s Digiday Media Buying Summit, held in Palm Springs, Calif., Oct. 12-14 featured a strong roster of C-suite speakers from across the media agency spectrum, expounding on subjects ranging from programmatic’s inevitable dominance to ground-breaking consumer research

But illuminating insights come from the unvarnished and honest thoughts of the people in the agency business who do the day-to-day work. Our Town Halls, as we call them, invite the attendees of the summit to engage with us under Chatham House rules, which grants them anonymity. We held two Town Halls, the first to address their pain points, and the second to seek out solutions they have to those pain points. The following are what they had to say, and have been edited lightly for clarity. 


Clients demanding more during the pandemic …

“When we think about how the pandemic has affected consumers, for agencies there has been an effect on clients’ requests and expectations, because lots of agencies had to become extremely nimble to retain that business. Client expectations, have, in my opinion and experience, catapulted beyond just the norm, because we have had to be so agile with the change of environments.”

…but paying less

“[Clients also were] keeping all the money that was promised in scope for that year. This year with the impending recession there are a lot of clients that say, ‘We’re going to push the spend to next year.’ And they ask, ‘Can we not pay you this year?’ No, because if you don’t, we might not be around next year.”

“Do the exact same thing you’ve been doing, with 18% less [budget].”

“80% less!”

“We’re also seeing it with measurement too, where things are changing. We’re planning for a full funnel multimillion dollar campaign and they’re cutting all this budget and [saying], ‘We just want to be lower funnel, we just care about efficiency.’ … It was up to 80% less. [Then they ask] ‘Why are we not building brand awareness?’ Even though we just cut everything.”

Differences in vocabulary and KPIs

“There’s a difference in wording. We’ve run into ‘We want to run an awareness campaign, but why isn’t it driving sales?”

“Search KPIs and programmatic KPIs are not the same. So why do you want me to put my programmatic campaign towards a search KPI that I’m never gonna be able to meet?”

The uninformed C-Suite

“A lot of people who are at the very very top of the holding companies and the agencies within them are people who didn’t necessarily grow up through digital. So they don’t fully understand. A lot of them grew up in direct mail. They don’t understand what they’re asking.” 

“We all live in fear of that uninformed C-suite.”

Lower funnel obsession

“What I’ve seen is that clients just really don’t care as much about upper-funnel campaigns, particularly when it comes to results. Because the KPIs they care about are conversions, MMM [media mix modeling] and thinking about clicks.”

Recessionary cutbacks

“When business is booming, sure, go ahead and spend on marketing. But as soon as a recession hits, they think that marketing should be turned off, because that’s where they need to save money. And yet, that’s the best time to [spend], because so many people are cutting back and get more for your buck.”


Improving communications with clients

“The way we try to like nip [miscommunication] in the bud once the scope is done, is to start with a measurement plan so that everyone is aligned on the framework, and what the KPIs are — and literally have the client sign off on it. Then when those conversations happen [questioning the KPIs, you can say], “Oh my gosh, do you remember that email?’ We’re trying to have those conversations on educating the client. Because at the end of the day, they’re held to metrics as well.”

“I feel like if you could always tie clients to money against a KPI — which means it’s tied to outcome — it’s easier to get them to stick to it versus your subjective opinion on whether they should have this KPI.”

“Steak dinners always help — bribe them with alcohol and food.”

Training and educating

“We’ll have specific media days [with clients], where we’ll bring in our programmatic team, our search team and. our social teams to just talk about the specific channel. We’re not talking to KPIs — KPIs end up going over their head. So just setting the baseline of what these channels are, what omnichannel is. We’ll have an immersive session with some clients, just to educate the brand team and our contacts on a channel level of education.”

“It’s a huge degree of internal education, as well as trying to parallel that with external education, depending on who owns the relationship with the client. Which may or may not be the media team, depending on what legacy or what heritage that relationship has.” 

Alt data sources when walled gardens won’t share

“Number one, it’s reaching out aggressively to every rep that I know — like, give me a number for fuck’s sake! Second thing is, I’m looking across different blogs that have collected a certain amount of data from HootSuite or something like that. It’s all about starting with a number and then running enough data to create your own KPI.”

Getting clients to value upper funnel again

“We tried to sell it through to clients as a learning opportunity. Because if you’re doing audience segment testing, there’s a huge opportunity there to actually be able to learn how audiences respond.”

“We can fight over the lower funnel metrics all day. But if you work the upper funnel metrics, you get to get more money, and you get loyalty out of all those different things. No one’s loyal because you’re cheap.”

Color by numbers

As consumers keep getting more socially aware, it is becoming critical for advertising to align with clients’ ESG (environmental, social and governance) commitments. IPG Mediabrands and its intelligence arm Magna put out its fourth Media Responsibility Index (MRI), which aims to increase industry awareness on harm reduction for brands and consumers. The analysis covers 10 social platforms and surveys more than 150 partners across formats in 15 countries. It also provides tools for teams and clients to collaborate on brand safety, investments and recommendations for ESG priorities. Some highlights:

  • Some 54% of consumers say they stopped buying from a company due to its public position on an issue, and 48% of investors have decided not to invest in a company for that same reason.
  • Across ESG priorities, MRI determined that global social platforms are making the most progress when compared to broadcast and cable, CTV and OTT and digital video and display. Social platforms averaged an increase of three points in overall performance, with partners gaining about 10% in inclusivity ,driven by more internal accountability and creator equity.
  • Snap gained six points over its competitors in protecting people and fighting misinformation. TikTok increased eight points on the index in brand safety practices, and another 24 points in its children’s wellbeing efforts.
  • Safety was a big priority for broadcast and cable, because it is under federal regulation that requires uniformity and third-party enforcement in safety standards. This includes children’s safety rules and advertising approvals.
  • Digital-first CTV partners are focused on more data ethics performance than their traditional counterparts. This may be due to their operating in a more tech-oriented environment, versus traditional television. —Antoinette Siu

Takeoff & landing

  • Horizon Media won media AOR for Glanbia Performance Nutrition (GPN), makers of SlimFast. Horizon cited blu., its connected marketing platform, as being instrumental in landing GPN’s business.  
  • Anagram is a new media agency launched by the ISPD group of companies, which bills itself as a cognitive marketing group. The agency, which is taking a data/cognitive science approach to solving client challenges, will be led by managing director Kristen Abramo. 
  • Video buying and measurement platform Tatari, which deals in linear and streaming TV, officially made itself available for agencies to use. 
  • Advertising in space took one step closer to reality with the formation of StartRocket, a new agency formed by ex-WundermanThompson partner Vlad Sitnikov.

Direct quote

One session during the Digiday Media Buying Summit focused on how Web3 and the metaverse have the potential to right a lot of wrongs committed with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion. Digiday editor in chief Jim Cooper interviewed Egbavwe Pela, svp group media lead at CMI Media Group and Kerel Cooper, president of advertising for Group Black. The pair provided examples something done wrong and something done right — opportunities from which to learn. 

Pela: “It was earlier this year, in the whole height of NFT craze. There was a rapper that was an artificial intelligence rapper that was developed. I don’t know what race it was, It’s FN Meka, And the lyrics were very controversial. And it got pulled back, and [the people behind it] were using language and ethnicity they shouldn’t be saying. And so the internet blew up. First of all, they didn’t have the right people in the room to understand whether or not that was okay, because it was not okay. But I think by them quickly realizing from kind of the noise that they got, and being able to pull the deal back and reverse pivot was good. But make sure you at least have people in the room that can get differing opinions before you go into market. You’re not going to catch everything. And everything we do is going to piss off somebody, right? So it’s just a matter of just making sure we’re doing our due diligence ahead of time.” 

Cooper: “Get second, third, fourth opinions. I was having a conversation with a major gaming company two weeks ago. We talked about their strategy in this area, about how they think about developing diverse sets of characters for the their games. And even when they come up with concepts, one of the first things they do is leverage their version of ERG [employee resource groups] internally, to vet these characters that they’re creating. He told me that they have avoided numerous mistakes by doing that internally. and getting a second, third and fourth level of verification. So I think companies should slow down a little bit and not always rush the market. You don’t always have to be first to market with everything. Taking your time and doing your due diligence goes a long way to avoiding the mistake we just talked about.”

Speed reading

  • Digiday’s senior news editor Seb Joseph, senior ad tech reporter Ronan Shields and I uncovered Apple’s hush-hush meetings with media agencies to float the launch of an ad-supported version of Apple TV.
  • Digiday senior media editor Tim Peterson laid out the details of Netflix confirming the worst-kept secret in media, that it’s launching a lower-cost ad-supported tier in November. 
  • DIgiday’s deputy managing editor Julia Tabisz explained recent original research we did that shows a disconnect among agencies about the amount of money they spend on TV advertising and the confidence they show in the medium. 
  • I covered Stagwell’s continued expansion of its Marketing Cloud efforts with the purchase of Maru Group, which specializes in expertise in research-as-a-service offering.

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