Agency Collective: The Creative-Media Divide

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



creative-media-divideMedia and creative are colliding more and more as online advertising grows, data becomes more important to the justification of a brand's budget allocation and new platforms and formats emerge. The initial separation of the two led to media and creative agencies on opposite sides of the table, vying for control of the strategy, but as brands become more concerned with integration and long-form content, media and creative are being pulled back together to plan campaigns that capitalize on the growing possibilities of online advertising.

We asked: What role should media play in the creative process, and how does the separation of the two affect digital projects?

Steve Schildwachter, Executive Vice President | Draftfcb

Media must be part of the creative process because media (which I’m defining broadly here) is a kaleidoscope of ways to build client business. In fact, media is creative. My experience running large, trans-media projects has been exciting because we simultaneously imagine creative ideas and how they can engage consumers.

Many agencies work this way. Most big agencies, however, spun off their media departments back in the ‘90s, which created Starcom, Zenith, Mindshare and more. Those are great agencies that bring creative uses of media. I’d argue their biggest successes come when there’s a strong partnership with a creative agency counterpart.

A few years ago we designed an IMC process for a large, siloed client. One of its biggest questions was which to develop first: the creative platform or the channel plan? The answer in actual practice: both. The message and the medium should influence each other.

When that doesn’t happen, things can fall apart. I worked with a colleague at a digital agency who joked that “IMC” stands for “I already Made the Commercial.” Unfortunately, the same thing happens to shopper marketing, event marketing and other channels that the business needs.

The problem is that some channels become tactical when all channels must be strategic. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to start early. The more upstream creative and media work together, the better the result will be.

Deacon Webster, Chief Creative Officer | Walrus

Ideally, media is collaborative with a lot of give and take, depending on what the goals of the campaign are and the situation. Sometimes, an idea will be inextricably linked to the media that houses it. Other times, ideas need to fit a predetermined plan. The creative utopian in me likes to think that all media and creative should be developed organically and 100 percent side by side. But when MTV calls and says it wants you to fill some on-air slots, you're not going to turn around and tell them to erect a public art sculpture instead. You're going to make some TV spots.

If you want to see the downside of media being separate from creative in the digital space, look no further than dynamic creative versioning (where the creative is updated in real time via a computer based on performance). Design and idea-wise, dynamic versioning is a real killer because it requires all creative elements to work together in every combination. All visuals, lines and backgrounds must be swappable and interchangeable, and not all ideas work that way. In fact, most unique ones don't. Digital media folks see dynamic versioning as a fantastic way to make an extra buck because they own the technology, but you have to question if it's really optimizing for the right things because it's ultimately click driven. The ROI on a huge portion of digital campaigns would not be uncovered if they were judged on clicks alone. If there were creatives in the room when these methods were recommended, the methods might be implemented with a bit more caution.

Shirley Au, President and COO | Huge

Media is critical to any project and should not be separated from the creative process. The media is the platform for the creative and a key consideration when attempting to influence a particular demographic or behavior. At my agency, the planners, visual designers, interaction designers and developers all consider media hand-in-hand with other aspects of the work. We're actually in the process of building out our media practice, which is overseen by marketing strategy. We see this as a core part of the overall process of creating products with which users want to engage.

Chris Gokiert, President | Critical Mass

The growth of analytics and data gives us an opportunity to bring the power of data to life with emotion and allows us to connect with our clients' customers. As our access to greater amounts of data continues to grow, we see that conversations quickly turn from "customers" to "targets" and "growth" to "efficacy." In a world of efficacy and targets, there is less of a sense of emotion and connection. The best brands in the world thrive off of connections with their customers, and the best campaigns come from the same place.

Our agency world is full of client-agency environments in which jostling for prominence takes precedence over collaboration. For the most part, the separation of media and creative rarely leads to a great idea. Media partners often seem to live on one side of the creative process; they either have already completed a media buy that the creative agency needs to "fill," or after the creative process they are forced to scramble to negotiate a buy. Exacerbating this situation is the rise of the creative advertising and publishing partners. Powerful brands such as Microsoft, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are adding creative talent that will work with media companies to brainstorm ideas and deliver these concepts to clients. This leaves creative agencies in an awkward position in which they need to attempt to fit this new idea into the ongoing communications platform for a client.

Using data and partnerships as tools to feed the creative process is how media and creative agencies need to work. This alignment usually means a very tight collaboration around a single brief, which allows for the co-creation of media expertise and creative agency partners.

Scott Symonds, Managing Director | AKQA Media

If the role of creative is to delight, inform and persuade consumers, then the role of media in the creative process is to provide as much accuracy and context as possible to creative teams: who is the audience (or segment) and what is the context of the content or delivery format (device, media format, banner, page, search, rich media interactive element, video, etc.).

Creative must also be relevant and respectful of the consumer's time and interest; the creative message and asset should reflect what content the consumer is consuming, device utilized, time of day, creative asset type and relationships the consumer does or does not have with the client brand — all of these are vitally important for maximum impact and effectiveness from creative.

I can't think of a single positive attribute for keeping media and creative separate – the more truly integrated they are and respectful of each other and the consumer the better the end campaign and consumer experience should be.

With the level of data and targeting fidelity we have with digital now, we can create and deliver media to far more nuanced consumer targets and with greater accuracy, establishing a need/opportunity to create extremely targeted and dynamically personalized versions of creative assets and asset message sequencing to evolve a media plan from a blunt force LCD instrument to something more customized that feels more like an external distributed CMS platform or an off-site CRM program. This logical near future of digital advertising will require media and creative (and technology) to work much more closely together and realize more their interdependencies.

Detavio Samuels, Executive Vice President, Client Services | GlobalHue

The role media plays in the creative process is twofold. First of all, before any thinking begins, creative thinkers should be informed of the most relevant media channels for an idea to “live” in — based on the target consumers’ behaviors. For an idea to function as a true solution for a client, it must be able to be expressed across the channels that are best for engaging and driving adoption by the target audience. Secondly, after a creative platform is selected, media should be leveraged to extend the idea in a coherent manner across the most engaging and effective platforms and technologies. Here, media makes the idea better by developing innovative ways to express the creative idea and reaching the target where they live and breathe.

This creative process is best when performed by a multidisciplinary team in a collaborative environment. Any client solution (regardless of whether the core of the idea lives in traditional or digital media) cannot be optimized if media and creative exist in silos.

David Baldwin, Creative Director | Baldwin&

In an advertising context, the best situation is to always make media part of the creative process. Otherwise, in the worst-case scenarios, you’re just filling holes created by mathematic models.

By making media part of the creative team earlier in the process, you can find different opportunities to reach people and build more meaningful conversations with them. Interestingly, if you look at the past decade of media ideas that have been awarded at major shows, such as Cannes and the One Show, many of them came from agencies rather than media companies.

Nicole Granese, Vice President, Strategy and Insights | Slingshot

We are all creative, regardless of the agency department in which we work. Some of our most impactful work was a result of having our media, digital presence, insights and creative team members brainstorm together. When the teams collaborate closely, we come up with more innovative ways to execute the creative idea — whether that is through media finding information on a new guerilla tactic that just became available, our digital presence sharing ideas for using a new social tool or our creative team shaping the way a print partner delivers added value.

Many agencies and clients separate their media and creative teams, and they can function that way. But the separation is often problematic at best, especially when it comes to digital projects. Digital buys are complicated because there are more types of units than ever before across more platforms and more choices to be made (especially when you add paid blogger efforts into the mix). Thus, it is critical that the creative and media teams are in close contact to communicate with each other about which types of platforms work best to express the creative idea, as well as ways to get the full benefit out of the program or type of unit.

We have found the most effective and seamless way to do that is to ensure our media and creative teams work in close proximity to each other (they sit on the same floor) and have an opportunity to see and provide input on each other’s deliverables (e.g., creatives see media plans before they’re presented and media people often sit in on creative reviews). The benefit of this is not just a smoother process flow but also the fact that everyone on the team feels a higher degree of connection to the campaign.

Aki Spicer, Head of Digital+Content Strategy | TBWA\Chiat\Day NY

Media isn't just an ad hole; it's the space where people experience our ideas. Ideas are only as good as their execution. So, I often lament the separation of a media agency from a creative agency. I thrive in close proximity to connection planners and media planners. We'd do well to find bridges to one another despite the divides in company logos.

Gina Grillo, CEO | The ADVERTISING Club

Over the past decade, the advertising landscape has dramatically changed, moving from milestone television campaigns to nearly real-time marketing. Consumers are spending more time online and have more control over traditional advertising channels. As a result, we are redefining partnerships, best practices and professional development initiatives to embrace the confluence of TV, print and direct marketing with social media, video, data, native ads and branded entertainment. Above all else, we ensure overall ROI.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the International ANDY Awards, we acknowledge that our celebration and recognition of creativity has evolved alongside the industry and technological innovation. Media is being pushed to the front and center of the conversation. We’re always celebrating new forms of creativity such as branded content, gaming, mobile and social marketing, all of which revolve around emerging media.

It’s an exciting time to work in this industry because the lines are blurring across functions, which brings more diversity of thought and new talent to our industry. It is the acknowledgement that creative ideas can come from anywhere, and as a result, there are fewer limitations as to which functions of the advertising process get to be creative. Some of the most creative people in the industry are working at media agencies and content labs rather than just traditional creative agencies. Integration and ongoing collaboration between both sides will help to improve work across the board.

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