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April 4, 2008

Are media agencies failing their clients?

While there is widespread acceptance of the power of events and live marketing within the corporate and business-to-business (B2B) sector, this is not the case within the business to consumer (B2C) sector. Here events tend to be seen as the poor relation in the marketing mix, and are often overlooked in favour of more traditional forms of media.

When faced with the range of communication channels available - from print through to radio and TV - consumer marketing budget holders often look to specialist media agencies to help them plan a balanced marketing portfolio. As such, these agencies have significant influence over the B2C marketing purse strings. Although there is no doubting their prowess at handling the more traditional forms of media, they have been slow to consider events and other live marketing opportunities. (This is an attitude sadly reflected in the mainstream press, where until recently it has been almost impossible to get them to entertain events and live marketing as a serious form of media.)

Much of the problem stems from the perceived inability of events to provide the kind of statistics that many media agencies are used to. Most media agencies are awash with qualitative research - be it computer-generated audience figures for radio and TV, or circulation figures for printed media - that shows how media actually work, whereas comparable published information for the live marketing world is pretty thin on the ground. (Although a quick flick through some of the other features on this site will show that this is changing).

Then there's the issue of creativity. Event professionals know it takes great ideas, visuals and well-planned designs to make your product stand out in the live environment. These are skills and resources that many media agencies will not have access to. There are commercial issues as well. Conventional media provide commission structures allowing media agencies to readily control their margins.

However, with the rise of "experiential marketing" there is much talk in marketing circles about the power of live experiences, and a growing belief among industry observers that this will lead to top-down pressure for change. With clients becoming more aware of the power of having consumers interact with their brand in a live environment, media agencies will be under pressure to properly evaluate live marketing options.

So there are encouraging signs that the tide is turning in favour of live events. Indeed, a number of media agencies have already responded to these challenges. For example, OMD, part of Omnicom, has created a division called OMD Fuse to pursue live marketing opportunities. "Clients are increasingly looking for holistic strategies using new channels with better standout in a cluttered media world," explains Toby Hack, head of OMD Fuse. Hack cites a number of OMD's clients that have already created experiential campaigns planned by OMD Fuse, including Virgin and Walkers.

Omnicom is also working with independent events companies like brand experience specialists, Sledge, which recently collaborated with Manning Gottlieb OMD on behalf of Footlocker. Steve Eakins, managing director at Sledge, is upbeat about this new development within the industry. "While traditional media continue to play a part in Footlocker's plans, our strategy to create rich brand experiences in and around stores amounts to a shift in marketing emphasis and a re-allocation of budget."

Financial pragmatism is often the mother of invention, and media agencies aware of the growing importance of experiential growth are unlikely to stand by as others lay claim to the marketing cash that might otherwise be theirs. The reality is that media agencies need the kind of help that only live marketing experts can provide, so there is a major opportunity for the two to work more closely.

This can be nothing but good news for companies trying to make their brand stand out. Experiential marketing is here to stay. If your media agency is not offering you a live option, are they letting you down?

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