Anthony Abou-Zeid, Head of Client Services at The Kite Factory, examines the evolving role of creativity in media planning and why media agencies need to better articulate the value of investing in creativity to cautious advertisers.

“You use a glass mirror to see your face. You use works of art to see your soul”, said Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, when addressing originality. He believed individuals all have an entirely unique worldview which gives us capacity to create something original. Our reflection in the mirror is unique, so too are our creative expressions.

I find there are parallels here to our industry, our faces being our agencies and our creative expressions being our people. When I say agencies, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m referring to the creative shops. In fact, it’s the other side of the coin, the media agency. Frequently the default position taken is that creativity and expansive thought is something that sits sacred within the creative agency. While that might have been the case in our industry’s history, it is not conducive to effective outcomes.

As a younger client services man, I was dubious about the value placed on automation, programmatic and tech adoption by clients and agencies in equal measure. Years later, I look back and laugh. As the tech, and those operating it, have matured, automation has brought so many benefits, not least where our time is spent. Automation of tasks that were once laborious means we now have more space for high value tasks, not least taking time to pause and really think about driving innovation for our clients. But with change comes a new battleground – convincing clients to invest in a media creativity culture, which can sometimes have seemingly less certain outcomes in the short term.

So how do we convince them? By focusing on the ‘art’ of integrated craft media planning, where human insight breeds originality, and the important ‘science’ that fuels it. It’s about sound measurement and effective use of meaningful data points, giving us credibility to push creativity. We need to generate results, of course, but this also means having the conversation about results which sit beyond short term algorithmic optimisation of ROI’s or Cost Per Whatever’s. It’s about overall effectiveness and that comes in many forms but, importantly, requires a balanced view of the short and long term. Yet, we’re still met with nervousness from a client perspective when we pull the creative lever in media planning.

The weird thing is, there are studies involving thousands of advertisers and millions of pounds in media and advertising investment which supports the notion that creativity leads to more effective outcomes. According to Nielsen, creativity provides 47% of the total sales impact, then reach, brand, targeting, recency and context, but this doesn’t capture the full picture. Nielsen goes so far as to admit that this is misleading as context is tightly connected to the specific creative. Peter Fields also points out how creatively awarded campaigns are now no more effective than non-awarded campaigns. This decline in creative efficiency can be entirely avoided, however it requires a rethink as to how creativity is deployed, which is where media planning is so key. Why then, do we still come up against resistance when asking advertisers to invest here – despite what best practice shows us?

Well, this really boils down to the notion that some senior marketers are losing the ability to articulate the value of their media investment to non-marketing C-suite. Now, I’m not saying that non-marketing senior leaders can’t see the value of this creative investment, which often comes with higher capital costs, but marketers tend to use a vernacular which isn’t as binary as some CEOs and CFOs might like. At the most recent Campaign Media360 conference, a consultant suggested that 80% of CEOs do not trust their CMO… that’s a pretty tough starting point, so no wonder marketers are hooked on the short term to gain favour and trust. I’ve seen these tensions play out with damaging outcomes, not only to media investment but also brand health and business effects.

The unseen cost is this is killing innovation and original thinking. It is imperative for media agencies to show credibility in financial and commercial acumen, throughout all levels, to help our clients have these conversations with those holding the purse strings to protect investment, build confidence and give us the outlet to drive creativity in media. Dare I say it, maybe a little push from advertisers to upskill their senior stakeholders from non-marketing backgrounds and disciplines. After all, marketing is a significant investment line on most P&Ls…  

The other side of this is media and creative agencies collaborating at the earliest point possible. Creative treatment tailored to the media moment and platform is central to driving impact and effectiveness. But the value of this collaboration goes beyond that. The human insights shared, an idea which might result in a brand to punch out of its category and into culture, this notion of diversity, equity and nuanced world views to create ideas with greater impact, defying conventional wisdom… the upsides are endless. This good stuff happens when both disciplines co-create strategy fuelled by sound insight, debate, discussion and consensus on the measurement of said output. When so much of our industry is becoming increasingly commoditised, there is a higher premium on originality and innovation. It’ll also drive standards, safeguard and attract broader pools of talent into the industry – one for another article perhaps.

If we lose sight of the element of creativity in our work, are we just headed towards a homogeneous media agency landscape? Sounds awfully boring. As a collective, we need to continue to push the creativity agenda in media planning as the competitive edge for agencies and advertisers, when it’s leveraged properly, is just too strong to overlook.