The Seven Deadly Sins Of Australian Media Agencies

The Seven Deadly Sins Of Australian Media Agencies

In this guest post, Dan Hojnik (main photo), head of strategy and planning at Involved Media, offers an insider’s look – and a completely honest one, too – on the current state of media agencies in Australia…

Media agencies are more honest now than ever before, but is that out of necessity or because it is the right thing to do for their clients? Don’t get me wrong, the focus on transparency in the past 10 years has been great, but there is still a way to go to achieve real, balanced and trusting client-agency relationships.

Most agencies – even the independents – are guilty of committing sins against their clients and vendors. For the most part, the sins are about profitability and designed to put agencies first rather than the brands with which they work.

Here are seven of the most common examples client should be looking out for as they review their media agency relationship:

Opaque resourcing

The team presented to a client in a pitch is not often the team that will work on that business. They may be too senior, may be committed to other clients or, in many cases, they may not even exist yet. Often, agencies will need to hire a whole new team for a new client after they sign them. We all need to be cognisant of the fact that we have an industry staff shortage in Australia which means clients should be vigilant in understanding the proposed resourcing available at prospective agency partners.

Dishonest total agency workload

One full-time employee (FTE) in an agency working for one client should mean just that, but it isn’t always the case. The sin here lies in FTEs assigned to a particular client only spending, say, 50 per cent of their time on the client and the rest on other clients. It is something that is often hidden from clients. To be fair, the constant focus on price in pitches over the years has resulted in many agencies running on fumes when it comes to staff and FTEs.

Overselling unique products

This is a classic sin where something that sounds too good to be true probably is. A black box that holds all the answers and looks amazing on slides can be the work of a skilled designer and presenter, with nothing sitting in the back-end. Whole divisions and false branded assets can be created for a pitch that either do not exist or have never been tested outside of the pitch scenario.

There is nothing wrong with asking to see a live demonstration or have a working session to better understand what an agency is selling can work in practice.

Toxic inter-agency relationships

Agencies like to oversell their ability to deliver additional services, including claiming they can do them better than existing agency partners. This attitude of trying to own all of the client’s work can spur toxic relationships between a client’s various marketing services suppliers and impact the outputs and results of all of them. A fear of collaboration and partnership is unnecessary given we now operate in such a diverse communications landscape.

Clients need to make existing relationships clear to all agencies and their partners. It also helps to have specific KPIs related to agency collaboration in service level agreements.

Overpromising price position

Overpromising on achievable media pricing without explaining to the client that a lower price might mean they won’t get the media placement they want or need is a common sin. Sure, it delivers short-term efficiency, but it completely ignores the effectiveness of the activity in driving sustainable business outcomes.

This approach isn’t sustainable for agencies and reduces the likelihood that media owners will do any favours for the client, especially where there is a supply shortage as there is today. It also isn’t sustainable for clients because it looks efficient on paper regarding cost but, when it comes to evaluating performance, results tend to slip as the ads can appear in places not suitable for the client’s audience

Vagueness surrounding programmatic ‘fees’

With more media now able to be purchased programmatically, clients must be more vigilant than ever about their media agencies disclosed remuneration when it comes to programmatic. In some extreme cases, 80% of the money spent on programmatic media went to technology and service fees, with just 20% going to media. Clients need to insist on rigorous reporting of programmatic fee breakdowns.

Marking own homework

This is an age-old sin. If the analytics department or agency is affiliated with a media agency, then the media agency’s team will often have the final say on the narrative being reported. Ideally, the analytics team should be giving an impartial view on performance against the critical metrics set by the client. If an agency truly wants to act in the client’s best interest, then it should be opposed to the idea of marking of its own homework.

As a client, if you would like to avoid falling victim to these seven sins you need to consider running working sessions in your pitch and review processes. At the end of the day, it’s about strengthening client-agency relationships and, in turn, improving industry transparency and honesty.


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Dan Hojnik Involved Media

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