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February 27, 2008
Reinventing the Media Agency
I’ve done a lot of conceptual work lately about innovation and creative work processes within the media agency. It brings to mind a distinction Aristotle made which seems to be forgotten. He divided the world into two parts: the first in which things can't be other than they are and another in which things can be other that they are - a simple but very strong distinction. The first part is typified by the physical world where a rock is a rock and can't be anything else. In this world, Aristotle's analytics lay out a fabulous toolbox: rigorous, objective, quantitative analysis with a goal to establish and document the reality of the situation. This world is the most known, and most of marketing communication is created within this "unchangeable reality" where being consistent matters.

The other world, where things can be other than they are, is the world of people, of organizations and of cultures. For example, a bad communication strategy can be something else - a great communication strategy - if someone figures out how to turn it around. In this area, analytics are an inappropriate tool. Instead, Aristotle described the thinking tools: conversation, invention, and intention. Here our efforts aren't focused on the description of what is real but rather on the creation of something that does not currently exist, that must be first imagined.

Media agencies must operate within those distinctions. We need to deliver both hard and soft facts. We need to provide our clients with the rigorous and quantitative analysis; we can't run away from numbers. We still need to be a kind of accountant for our clients and describe reality by using hard facts, ROI, reach, awareness, etc. But we can't be stuck in that role. We need to evolve into a new type of media planner, into communication guides who take the clients, consumers and brands on a fascinating journey to the modern and fragmented world of plenty.

If media agencies want to keep up with the changes, embrace the media proliferation and get in touch with its most important client - human beings - we have to understand and operate in the second of the Aristotle worlds - the world where things can be changed via creativity and innovation. I know people are not so fond of change in general; we are afraid of losing control. For safety reasons we stick to routines. But if we media planners want to stay in the game, we don't need to get a fancy new title. In order to stay in the game, we have to develop new skills, be enthusiastic and curious. We must believe and dare to influence the world and make media plans and brands look different. Media agencies need to reinvent themselves to face the changing and challenging world. We need to reinvent the role of media planner so it operates between soft and hard facts and drives innovation.

The fact is that CMOs expect media agencies to move forward--not adapt to an upcoming future, but understand that future is now. New technologies are introduced nearly every day. This technology influences consumer behavior, shifts control to the consumer and creates personalized and customized media. Content, storage and interactivity are what matter. It requires us to be creativity and innovation driven, but none of this technology can replace common sense and a deep knowledge of media, consumers and most of all, knowledge about our clients’ business. A mix of innovative thinking, hard facts and KNOWLEDGE - the biggest assets of the 21st century - is a lethal weapon that takes us toward success and makes us different from the competition.

Some of you probably think this is obvious. Is it? I guess the reality can sometimes be different and bitter. Many of us have received those short briefs at least once: “We are going to run a TV campaign, as we have just produced a TV spot. How many GRPs can we get for $xxx?” And I guess many of us have tried to ‘copy & paste’ the media plans from the last year. Many clients and many planners favor a tested solution. After all, no one can be fired for using TV. Not yet. However, this attitude will not take us any further, will not allow us to become successful and achieve financial goals. We must forget about good old flowcharts and apply the “blank sheet” method, meaning starting from scratch with our media mix strategies.

“The innovator has as his enemies those who did well under the old conditions,” as Machiavelli said once.

Being different isn’t easy. Innovation is not easy. They are necessary.

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From the shores of beautiful Lake Erie, Greg Thomas is Creative Director at Brokaw in Cleveland, Ohio (aka everywhere else). Under Greg’s direction, Brokaw’s work has been recognized in the One Show, CA, and the National Addys. Last year Creativity magazine named Brokaw one of the 20 hottest rising shops. 
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