Media agencies have been in the shadows of creative agencies for a long time and even as the backdoor function has now become an independent industry, it still has a long way to go before clients are better educated on media services and the role they play for any brand’s communication. In the first round of discussions that exchange4media had on the subject last week, media professionals expressed their views on how brand equity of a media agency was important but only up to a certain point.
The views on whether media agencies have done a good job of carving a niche for themselves were divided. Whereas one section of the industry believes that media agencies are focussing on creating the right perception for themselves, the other school of thought is that despite being in the business of building perceptions, media agencies have themselves fared pathetically on this count.
The story unfolds some more this week where more media heads speak on their views on brand building for media agencies. Reiterating that image is important, Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar Universal asserted, “Brand image is very important particularly from point of view of media agencies having their own place in the sun in the entire communication spectrum. For far too long, media has been at the tail of the advertising sector in spite of having the best talent and having the access to, and the ability to use quality databases and tools and techniques.”
Carat Media’s CEO, Charles Jenarius agreed, “‘Perception is reality’ even in the case of a media agency. An agency’s image helps create an identity. Over a period of time it helps create and perpetuate a value system. It helps attract as well as retain clients and employees.”
TME’s President Anupriya Acharya added here, “Brand image is extremely important for all businesses and media agencies are no different. And as more and more advertisers start choosing media agencies separately (as against a full service tie up prevailing earlier) the brand image becomes even more important.”
On how media agencies have fared on this count, Jenarius observed, “Unlike other service marques who advertise to build their brand image, agencies rely on word-of-mouth and the marketing and showcasing of their various initiatives and achievements to create an image for themselves. This is often a slow builder and therefore may be perceived as a less effective when compared to other services and sectors.”
Sinha is more positive on this. He said, “I think media agencies are making strides in this direction and the focus should not only be on value added services like branded content or digital or tools and techniques but also the ability of media agencies to be at the forefront of the communication planning process, as the markets become more fragmented advertisers will have to resort to newer ways of delivering messages to consumers which media agencies will be eminently placed to handle.”
Acharya stated, “In the short time span of 8-10 years, most key media agencies have transitioned from being a specialist function provider to managing an independent business, and hence have also come a long way in understanding the need to be a strong independent brand. Moving forward, there is still a lot to do, right from awareness to proposition building and I am sure the industry will do it not just as well as, but better than some of the other service sectors. After all, professionals here are in the business of brand building and understand its importance far better than many!”
Bringing a word of caution here, she added, “Having said that, a straight extrapolation into high level of random PR is not what brand image is all about. It essentially starts from the organisation, wherein there needs to be a deep understanding of what you stand for and where would you like to go, and all this in the current and future market context. And then of course your clients, prospective clients as well as employs, business associates should perceive you as the same. Brand image must reflect the deliveries eventually.”
Experts are clear that image brings various advantages to the media agencies. From counts like choice destination for prospective employees, new business leads to pride amongst current employees and clients. Acharya explained that one important aspect of brand image is not the PR but happy clients. She said, “So much so that one of our very clients once commented that if agencies were to spend some more time in working instead of brand building and PR, they would have happier clients! While it is a somewhat extreme view, there is a lot of merit in the comment. It essentially brings to light the fact that no amount of brand image can compensate or substitute delivery. And we at TME are proud of the fact that despite the low profile that we maintain, we were ranked right next to Group M and Madison in the AC Nielsen Media Agency Track.”
Speaking on the benefits that every individual agency’s contribution could bring to the media agency business on the whole, Jenarius observed, “Carat, as a media independent, pioneered the concept of unbundling it eventually grew to be the industry norm. This is in fact the way (service) brands evolve across categories. It starts of as a commodity wherein everybody has similar offerings, then in order to differentiate one of the players innovate to create a competitive advantage. Thereafter the industry moves to match the innovator and neutralise this advantage and in the process the entire industry moves forward. This process continues and provides impetus to the continuous growth of the sector and industry.”
Acharya added here, “An agency’s focus on its brand can help develop the industry. Today you see more advertisers looking at media services separately. While new advertisers typically start with a full service mindset, soon they are educated about the industry and start evaluating media separately. We have also had cases where clients looking at launching in India have tied us up for business development planning work even before they have hired a creative agency!”
One cannot really dispute the importance of a brand image for a media agency. Efforts from media agencies are seen to create a market perception for themselves. The big question is that how soon will we see this efforts, that are at present in bits and pieces, become an industry norm and help develop the function of media better.