Coffee with Starcom media strategist, Rayan Karaky
D: A whole lot of people think media is about number punching. Could you tell us a little bit about planning in a media agency?
R: This misperception originated from the history of media agencies, from the times when the media department was a room flooded with print outs of excel sheets and when consumers had nothing to do but tune in to the 4 hours continuous advertising slot on Saudi TV! If media agencies are still about punching numbers then they would have dug their own grave… The first sign of dropping the out-dated numerical approach was the choice that the media agencies took to become a separate business with a totally new role in communication.
The boom that the media scene witnessed in the last ten years along with the lack of proper media research in the market that could measure the real impact of that boom changed the life of media planners for ever. The race to understand the evolved consumer mindset started & the competition to become the most innovative brand/agency was clearly reshaping the future of the media industry.
Today, in the era of DVR, podcasting, IPTV, & all the ingredients of "LIFE on demand", media planning is becoming obsolete! Program ratings, newspaper reach & radio listenership, bla bla bla... who cares!? for the love of god do you think the consumer with his ipod equipped car, navigation system, 3G mobile phone & his Digital video recorder that is creating his own TV channel at home as we speak, is actually waiting for your 30" spot or your quarter page vertical or horizontal, depending on how creative you wanna get? Some may argue that all this is too soon for the region, these are the same people who were arguing less than 10 years ago that the penetration of Digital Satellite TV will take ages before it becomes popular… Analog who?
Which brings me back to your question, The role of a media agency that cares about delivering true value to its consumer is to predict new trends and their possible impact on consumer behavior. Apply existing trends through a deep unearthing of consumer insights and psychographics, a true understanding of the business model that each brand operates in and a clear vision of the category and the marketplace. Finally measure the true value delivered to client in order to be able to build solid projections for future communication.
Media planners should become communication solution providers, solutions that are not necessarily found in a traditional advertising campaign, otherwise they will become what floppy disks are for today's IT managers...
D: So what type of traits do you look for when hiring media planners, strategists or communications planners?
R: Enough balls to say NO and enough brains to support it...
D: What are your thoughts on integration, mere industry jargon or industry practice?
R: Integration, integration, integration,.. please spare me.. I want every M.D, CEO for every discipline in the advertising world to look in the mirror every morning and say: What have I done!?
Integrated marketing mix is becoming the obsession of every marketer, and we all know that, but what is actually funny is; one, the client is now asking for integration. two, all he's asking is for us to say Hi to the media guys next time we see them in the elevator or throw in a smile next time we see the PR chicks hanging out at the cafeteria, or even to know the name of the account manager who I sit and have lunch with everyday without saying a word! what s our response? BIG EGOES! we all think we are the boss, my company is the spear head of my client's communication plans.. well here is an idea, you know who the real boss is? It's the consumer!!! yes, I am sorry if this will offended anyone or make his balls look a bit smaller than he thought they were but it is true! the consumer has made his share of mind so scarce that now you are actually forced to pick the brains of the PR dude who you just thought was responsible for clipping press releases and ask the media guys their opinion when you thought excel was their best friend.
All the different disciplines were one agency some few years back, but the hunger for more revenue made agencies forget their initial role of delivering marketing solutions for clients, and that is not possible without an integrated approach to client objectives.
Effective communication planning is a collective effort and if holding groups don't realize that soon enough, the clients are going to determine our fate not our CXOs!
D: Any advice you would give to traditional advertising practitioners about media, maybe something they tend to overlook?
D: Well, The list is endless, but let's focus on the future… Today, it's typical of media agencies to wait till the technology is out then they wait for it to become popular, commercial enough to trigger client interest, and finally wait for the client to come and ask about it for them to go research and learn of possible ways to use it to serve their objectives, by then a new technology is already out… Look at Tivo for example, advertisers worldwide are still struggling to find ways to maneuver around the DVR feature while Microsoft and Apple have already put most of their efforts into changing what home entertainment is today… by the time the first issue is resolved, Tivo will be dead!!
In this region we are blessed, we know about the technology most of the time before it hits our market! what we need to do is build, based on consumer insights and our understanding of the market, ways to launch these technologies in the market with our clients and benefit from the hype that will surround this technology. Most of the time when the innovation is launched the cost of advertising on it is very effective, but once it becomes very popular, the cost becomes high, sometimes as high as traditional media that clients in that case will see as a much safer investment. Industry practitioners need to understand that clients, in most of the cases, are not risk takers; if we see an opportunity that we truly believe in we need to push hard, even if it costs us some clients eventually one will do it and the rest will want to be followers. If you are a leading agency you want leading clients, the kind of clients who create trends instead of waiting to react.
D: Finally, should media agency's have creative departments?
R: The norm with the advertising world today is that media planners/buyers are too "raw", creatives meanwhile have their heads in the clouds. Media agencies needn't have a creative department, they just need creative Thinkers! after all we are all collectively responsible for the interface between the client and the consumer and how we feature the brand in any piece of communication; a Media planner needs to be able to visualize this interface, regardless of who is executing this vision. This takes us back to integration, it is all about setting a common goal, visualizing the plan, once all that a clear execution becomes the result of flawless planning.
Media planners need to be versatile, they need to be cable to put themselves in the clients', the creatives' & the consumers' shoes at the same time, if they manage to do that then they will become the true consultants they should be.
D: Many thank for being with us Rayan and good luck at Starcom.