The risk to reward ratio

Working on the media side of the business, dealing with the different ad agencies, we discovered that the more established agencies were too siloed, and that they’re often too invested in traditional advertising. Our job was to dream up new revenue opportunities for traditional “print” media companies that were aggressively expanding their portfolio to include all new media opportunities. We would craft proposals with fully integrated and cohesive campaigns that included print, digital, social/PR, events and original content creation. Often, the big agency with the big client would ask us to come up with something big, something that’s “never been done before”. We would work hard to come up with a program that had all the relevant touchpoints included, and that focused in on their ultimate objectives (regardless if it had never been done before). The feedback would almost always come back with the message that they loved the idea, but they’re just going to buy a bunch of print pages, and a little bit of digital display advertising. 

What this told me is that the big agencies were risk averse. They had a comfortable way of doing things, and to them the risk was bad for the individual careers under their roof. It was better to climb the corporate ladder by having a string of modest successes, than be a shooting star that could make a misstep and take the fall for the whole agency. And the culture changes when you make it to the top of the pile, there’s little tolerance for risk. Additionally, another reason to stick with traditional advertising over new is the availability of instant, quantitative analytics – traditional media analytics were soft at best, and it often took weeks or months to get any meaningful feedback or results.

It’s also hard to get away from “that’s the way it’s always been done”. Clearly, the older mentors in big agencies have often been successful in older media strategies, so there can be more influence to think the same way. Plus, the larger agencies often have heavy workloads, and that can require cutting corners to meet deadlines. It’s easier to apply what “worked” for a similar client or product than it is to really dive in and figure out what would work best across the media spectrum for this specific new campaign or client. Why constantly reinvent the wheel if you can get away with the same ol’, same ol’?

In reality, every campaign is different, and should be approached in a different way. Agencies need to tune in to the subtleties. You have to think about the touchpoints – where is this specific consumer discovering, and comprehending, the messages. Any media strategy should throw out their set of rules about the media mix, and customize for their client’s target demographic and psychographic, the brand, the product, the objective, and the message, among a host of other variables to determine the mix. They shouldn’t be thinking traditional media vs. new media – they should only be thinking about which media touchpoints will get the best ROI, and the best ROO (which should be used in unison!).