I had the recent pleasure of joining an agency-brand fireside chat at the latest Programmatic Pioneers virtual event. Titled “Thinking partnership, not service: How can agencies and brands build collaborative relationships to ensure mutually beneficial and highly successful alliances?,” this event was moderated by Andrew Lowdon, Director of Agency Services at ISBA and I was joined onscreen with Richard Bettinson, Director Media Strategy & Planning at EMEA Hilton. Below are some of the areas we discussed with my contribution.

Acceleration of the in-house trend and the role of agencies when there appears to be so many benefits from in-housing.

The topic of in-housing has not taken over our conversations with clients. We still believe it’s an important topic, but the majority of our clients are not accelerating their shift to in-house models. We believe there’s a widespread realisation that taking all media in house is a very difficult task in terms of talent, processes like finance and overall ways of working. However, we are building hybrid models that create a much deeper connectivity with teams made up of clients and agency talent, working together as a joint team. It could be called in-housing, but we see it as a very positive evolution of the agency and client partnership.

Best practices to achieve integration and alignment between in-house and agencies.

The better models for in-housing have this integration and alignment at the heard, so if there’s a single-best practice, it is the focus on ensuring that agency teams are closely connected to in-house teams rather than in-house teams working more directly with clients’ teams. This connectivity not only drives best practices in planning such as better audience planning but also in reporting and analytics with more data consistency and campaign intelligence, too. The latter is critical to ensure there is one version of truth across both the agency team and internal in-house team.

Clients are increasingly recruiting media talent from agencies. Is this an opportunity or a threat?

It’s an interesting evolution as it means the marketplace is becoming progressively more competitive for recruitment. Traditionally, we had to focus on being attractive vs. other agency groups. We now have to be competitive in a wider context. However, being glass half-full, I see this as extremely positive – increased expertise on the client side allows us to have more sophisticated conversations, do more innovative things and generally move faster.

What’s the meaning of transparency – the most used word in media?

We want to ensure that our clients have full visibility on how their marketing budgets are invested, whether it’s for agency fees, media spend, tech costs, etc. This is critical and one of the core pillars of our organisation, Publicis Groupe. We completely agree that this is critical in any agency/client relationship. Over the last few years, the focus has been around programmatic and transparency. Traditionally, agencies have been more concentrated on the demand side, but we have now taken an active stance on helping to solve transparency issues on the supply side. Zenith’s involvement in the ISBA programmatic study is a great testament of our commitment to transparency.

The role of data in our thinking, now and in the future.

Data has played a central role for many years and has driven the growth seen in programmatic investments. However, it’s true that we are seeing an evolution in its sophistication with an increasingly higher volume of first party data being used versus third party data. We’re seeing clients very focused on building second party data partnerships, which we believe, are going to be critical in the future and give brands partnering together a unique asset. We’re also gearing up for the changes coming with the gradual disappearance of trackers such as IDFA or third-party cookies. Getting ready for this new future now is essential!

The impact of going in-house and losing the benefits of a client / agency relationship.

If the client really wishes to go in-house, we would always recommend a client builds their in-house operations with the support of the agency and, effectively, creates a hybrid model where the agency, in-house team and client team work together with common goals. A connected framework would allow a client to still benefit from their agency’s expertise, whilst managing directly their in-house activation of media.

The impact of in-housing and the role of agencies five years from now.

As you’ve probably gathered, we do not believe that all media will move in-house. However, we see a future where agencies and clients work very closely together on defining the right integrated model. We’ve talked about hybrid models and we see them as the future where the ways of working and processes are engineered together, and they drive a much deeper level of connectivity between agencies and clients. This hybrid approach allows clients to focus on the performance of their business and agencies to bring their strategic expertise in strategy, execution and technology as we increasingly move to a world of automation.

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