Change is afoot in adland. With big consultancies creeping into the market through a series of acquisitions, combined with rabid speculation that brands are clawing back control over their media spend, it's no surprise that many expect agencies to be anxiously peering over their shoulders.
But far from battling for survival, agencies are in a stronger position than ever - and I'll tell you why.
Programmatic comes in-house
Recent research by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) revealed that 65% of brands have improved their in-house marketing capabilities over the last year, while 18% have employed an in-house programmatic expert. Meanwhile, research by Infectious Media found that almost half (49%) of large advertisers are considering bringing programmatic expertise in-house in the coming months.
And why not? According to the IAB's digital ad spend report, a whopping £2.71 billion was spent on programmatic display campaigns in the UK in 2016. To bring that to a comprehensible level, it's 72% of the total display ad spend - a figure that's expected to rise to 90% by 2019. When so much marketing budget is being spent programmatically, it's completely reasonable to hire expertise who can run a tight ship and ensure transparency is being demanded from every player in the supply chain.
But contrary to popular belief, brands bringing programmatic in-house will not render the media agency obsolete. Instead of replacing agency expertise, these hires will complement it. In fact, the Infectious Media report found that 86% of marketers believe that a "hybrid model" will become the norm. Besides, an in-house ad team will never be able to compete with agencies' technical knowledge and ability to achieve economies of scale.
Taking a seat at the c-suite table
If anything, media agencies are helping to guide their clients through digital transformation. In an industry that is evolving as rapidly as digital marketing, brands' executives are in the market for an advertising adviser.
Naturally, with experience of advising companies at the top table, consultancies have spotted their chance to strike. Just look at Accenture's digital arm, which has acquired nine agencies in the last twelve months - and has plans for further expansion next year. But we're already seeing agencies jump on the front foot here, and take on a more consultative role themselves.
Today, many agencies are taking on a more consultative role and offering strategic expertise. They're getting involved in conversations at the very top - meaning they're a fundamental part of marketing campaigns right from the start. By being more consultative, agencies are strengthening their position in the market.
Get down with the data
Media agencies are also evolving to become back channels for data aggregation.
Brands are sitting on a goldmine of first-party data - the most valuable possible. And the WFA report revealed that they are finally catching onto this, with over a third (38%) of brands having added clauses into their media agency contracts to protect themselves as the sole owners of their data.
Cynical commentators think this alludes to brands taking control of their data from their agencies. But this isn't true - agencies never had the data in the first place. It was sitting unused. In reality, brands are waking up to the power of their data, and recognising it as the magic ingredient that helps them to target the right people at the right time, with the right messages. Now, more brands need to trust their partners - and their extensive experience - to interpret and use their data.
The agency today
The beauty of the advertising industry is that it is constantly learning and evolving. And media agencies are a prime example of this in practice, they're adapting to become more holistic, bringing more value than ever.
And this evolution will benefit everyone. As the relationship between brands and agencies develops from a service to a partnership, we'll see greater transparency in the supply chain. And as brands continue to entrust agencies with their data, we'll see better targeted campaigns and greater quality advertising. Personally, I can't wait to see the results.
By Ilona Lubojemska, director of client services at The Trade Desk
GDPR Summit Series is a global series of GDPR events which will help marketers to prepare to meet the requirements of the GDPR ahead of May 2018 and beyond. Further information and conference details are available at http://www.gdprsummit.london/
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