Lindsay Pattison: media is becoming more technological but we still need the right fusion of maths and magic

unnamedAnother year begins, and I reflect on 2013 as the year that technology brought mass disruption to our industry. At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the view across La Croisette was dominated by digital media owners – Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Google, Twitter and so on – their supersized logos a stark visual representation of the shift towards an increasingly tech-driven, ad-served world.

Few would argue that the dramatic advances in programmatic processes that allow us to target audiences with informed precision are not a positive step. We’re seeing a huge amount of attention and investment around advertising technology – and some say that media has become just as important as the message. But contrary to what many might have us believe, all ad trading is not, in my view, going to become programmatic.

In time, the best ad tech providers will rise to the top as the market becomes leaner and tighter and the hype eventually settles. I predict that the shift in the industry will be more balanced at 60/40 programmatic /reserved media in the next two years.

Our business is founded on efficiency; we embrace technology that makes our work more effective and less expensive while helping us to manage complexities. The proportion of reserved media we’re buying is undoubtedly shrinking, while the machine-to-machine is growing. Most interesting to me is the crossover point, where we can now start to use technology for premium inventory.

Crucially, there will always be a role for the human touch here to apply a certain ‘magic’ to media buying decisions. Data is, after all, a virtuous circle of refinement, and only when analysis and insight are applied does it sharpen to become smart data. The more data we generate, the more refined we can become and the more precise and effective our targeting is. Understanding context, audiences and developing partnership ideas will never boil down to an algorithm; the human perspective is absolutely vital to keep that circle spinning.

What we’re also seeing is a clear distinction between the approach we take for outcome-based work and brand sentiment campaigns. So, the maths comes in when a client needs 5000 more broadband sign-ups this week, for example. But when a client asks why their brand isn’t more loved by a certain part of the market, that’s when we will always need the Mad Men magic – the human touch.

I’m often asked if the traditional media planner and buyer role is under threat. In fact, this shift is great news for planners as their role becomes more strategy-focused. There is absolutely still a call for brilliant planner-buyers who form relationships with media owners – where we continue to value the media brand and premium content. It is these negotiation skills that secure the best possible placement and added value for clients. So, the human element breathes life and context into work in a way that exchanges alone cannot.

To complement the more traditional media skillset, we’re hiring a new breed of talent we call ‘mathematicians’, who bring mathematical flair and a different approach to problem-solving. We also hire a mix of ‘heads up, heads down’ people. ‘Heads down’ people bring analytical brilliance, providing technical wizardry that makes for effective campaigns. ‘Heads up’ folk have the ability to translate technical detail to client and colleagues. Striking the right team balance is definitely a challenge, but create the right environment and they will come.

Technology is radically changing the way media agencies operate at the core. As digital has increased distribution possibilities and made media buying more complex, we have to change fast or sink. Yet as we use advanced technology to power efficient media buying, let’s also strive to retain the softer side, the more discoverable, engaging and contextual elements of planning.

Advertising has to reach the right people at the right time with the right message, and only with the right fusion of maths and magic do we achieve truly meaningful engagement.

Lindsay Pattison is CEO of Maxus UK and chief strategy officer of Maxus Worldwide.

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    Oh dear… We can now look forward to a fusion of maths and magic. Obviously, madness is no longer part of the equation. Although, I have to confess on reading that Lindsay is now hiring a new breed of talent they call ‘mathematicians’, who bring mathematical flair and a different approach to problem-solving. Plus, a mix of ‘heads up, heads down’ people. ‘Heads down’ people bring analytical brilliance, providing technical wizardry that makes for effective campaigns. ‘Heads up’ folk have the ability to translate technical detail to client and colleagues. It seems to me there are an awful lot of people there giving an awful lot of “head!”
    Cheers/George