Martin Kelly is co-Founder and Managing Partner of UK-based agency, Infectious Media Ltd.
At times I feel like the least skilled person at my company, in fact if I hired some management consultants to come in and take a look the business, they would probably recommend getting rid of me. Let me explain.
Most of the conversation in the space currently revolves around the technology; if you don’t have an acronym to describe what your company does then really you are nothing, service companies have, until now been low on the agenda. Of late there are a new set of companies appearing that service both advertisers directly and agencies with exchange trading services. These companies are all in a period of rapid scaling at the moment, filling a market need, and one of the interesting challenges they are faced with is what skill sets are needed and how this differs from 1.0 digital media buying organisations. When I look back at the media agencies I’ve worked at previously there are two broad disciplines, planning for which the typical candidate is creative, strategic and a good salesman. On the flip side is the buyer who is a negotiator, buttoned down and good with people; a titanic alcohol tolerance is also helpful.
The service layer is not yet developed for real time media buying and is definitely a big opportunity. One of the main drivers is the decision by the demand side technology companies not to focus on building service teams. Most wake up in the night in a cold sweat seeing their multiples erode if they are viewed as a service player, ‘we’re only a platform‘ they say and so there is a void between advertisers and these technology platforms that is starting to be filled by this new breed of platform trading specialist and potentially existing media agencies. However, when I look at the core skills that are needed for this type of business, none of them fit the profile of media agency staff as they are statisticians, computer scientists, and database experts.
My, potentially myopic, take on it is that large media buying agencies are not ready for this challenge yet, at least on a large scale. There is talk of reskilling, taking on new people with the skills needed to operate in this space but before this can happen in a large agency it’s going unskilling first. Buying is becoming data and technology driven, skills that are completely contrary to those that buyers at media agencies currently hold. So before new ways of doing things can be embraced, the legacy structures that were built for the old way of doing things have to be dismantled and this takes time.
In the meantime both ad networks and exchange trading specialists will thrive. Free from these legacy structures, they have built tailored infrastructure and have the skills to build their own data and technology layer that goes on top of the standard stuff creating a differentiated service offering. A good parallel is search marketing where network agencies have taken a good five or six years to build up a competent service team let alone starting to think about technology, leading to a very healthy specialist sector that look after many of the largest spending clients.
So back to the start then, what do I actually bring to the table within my company? The missing part of the puzzle is to have people with actual media, marketing and client service skills. What we do is complex and is getting even more so, but what we offer to advertisers is not. We offer them display advertising that works, the mechanics behind it are only of passing interest to our clients and the ability to sell this in, take the jargon out, and understand where it sits in the media mix should not be underestimated.