Which side of the fence do you sit on?
Two announcements this week have bemused but perhaps not surprised me. And they reflect the changing nature of the relationship between media agency and media owner, not all of which is healthy.
ââTwitter reaches biggest ad deal yetââ read the headline in the FT reporting on the ââ non- exclusiveââ yet ââpreferentialââ global deal that had been reached between Starcom Mediavest and Twitter.(http://www.brandrepublic.com/news/1179499/twitter-signs-major-advertising-deal-publicis-groupe/)
Once you get beyond the headline and read a bit of the detail behind the deal, it appears that it allows Twitter to offer the same ââpreferentialââ treatment to others . It would have to do so to avoid the fury of most advertisers and agencies . For Twitter, there appears to be no downside. As they prepare for a multi-billion dollar IPO they can tell the market that they have secured vast budgets and commercial endorsement from a leading buyer, on terms that they can offer to anyone else in the market.
Laura Desmond, Starcomâs CEO is, I assume, enjoying the afterglow of being seen to be there first to market ? She is quick to highlight how they have already innovated with Twitter on behalf of certain clients and to talk the big âDâ word (Data in case you didnât work it out). I assume that their experiences to date gives them confidence to ramp up their commitment. This will go a long way in her mind to offsetting the obvious criticismâŚwell obvious to me. And the criticism is thisâŚwhat is the purpose of cosying up so publicly to a media vendor? Spending money for a specific client, returning a commercial benefit to that client ,and in the process receiving a sensible reward for the agency, is what an agency is meant to do. But now when a Starcom planner recommends Twitter on a plan might the advertiser question whether there may be a motivation to do so beyond their own commercial ends? To fulfil the terms of the deal? Might they rightly worry that having made such a splash about the importance of Twitter that the planner is under pressure to bring them to the planning table even when it may be just a nice to have rather than a must have.Â Laura Desmond says that Twitter is ‘essential’. If so then that stock is going to FLY! And their stock price wonât be the only price that will be rising.
Starcomâs defence will be that they are getting one step ahead of the competition and thus feeding their clients first with the fruits of Twitter. In the past ,smart advertisers have beaten their competitors through stealth, doing things well without drawing attention to the media they have found is working. Why would a media agency want to draw attention to the benefits unless it is some way to try and make themselves (and not their clients) more sexy? If the announcement of the deal is a piece of marketing for the agency how should the clients of that agency feel?
I said there were two announcementsâŚthe second one was Facebook UKâs announcement of the creation of an Advisory Board (http://www.mediaweek.co.uk/News/MostEmailed/1179870/Coke-Tesco-MediaCom-join-Facebook-advisory-board/ ) . I have been aware for some time that this existed in the States because people I know well and respect either have sat or continue to sit on it.
I have already made my view clear to them. If they are doing that in a personal capacity I think it is acceptable as long as their companies feel no compunction to be overly friendly to Facebook by virtue of their participation. If they are representing their companyâs interests, why are they doing it? Are they being paid , are they simply flattered , or are they frightened of being left out in the cold? Their response unsurprisingly was that it gives them a bird’s eye view of the cutting edge of digital and social media. Oh ,and face time with the likes of Unilever’s Keith Weed!
If ITV, Channel 4, Associated Newspapers, News International and Global radio all decided tomorrow to follow suit what would media agencies do? Facebook have clearly gone out of their way in the UK to ensure that most Holding Companies have a seat on the Board. So presumably the same agencies would happily commit to help develop all these other important media owners too?I would argue we have as much to gain from improving their offering as we do in helping to develop Facebook. It’s not like Facebook canât afford to buy good advice. So why are agencies so keen to offer it for free?
It could soon get out of hand as media agencies fight amongst each other to do landmark deals in public and to sit on Advisory Boards. I suspect though that their interest is limited to digitally centric, stock price sensitive announcements.
Facebookâs argument might be that they are responding to criticism that in the past their advertising opportunities have been sub optimal and that they want to consult with the customer to ensure that the maximum impact is generated for advertiserâs investment. Canât argue with the ambition but surely the solution is to just do their job better, not to co-opt the buy market onto a Board.
My criticism here is not of the media owners. Twitter must be delighted and they are hardly going to bury the news that Starcom seemed so keen to promote.
Facebook are to be congratulated in getting big agency buyers to sit on their side of the fence.
As an agency person I know which side of the fence I intend to remain on.