Media agencies are under massive pressure to reinvent themselves. Here's how the biggest ones including Horizon Media and PHD are evolving to meet clients' demands

Marc Pritchard

  • Facing tremendous pressure on numerous fronts, media
    agencies are reinventing themselves, according to a new report by
    market research firm Forrester.
  • The report assessed nine media agencies based on their
    market presence, offerings, and future strategy related to issues
    like brand safety, transparency and media vendor
  • The report found that media agencies are doing more
    contextual buys and forging more direct
  • They are also getting more transparent, buying across
    more types of media and helping clients close the attribution

With media agencies
facing tremendous pressure on numerous fronts
, traditional ways
of media planning and buying just don’t cut it anymore.

Marketers are increasingly looking for media agencies that do
not just planning and buying, but also offer business and
technology strategy and data and analytics expertise. They want ad
buys that don’t just achieve reach and frequency but are
personalized and informed by technology.

Agencies are rising to the challenge, according to a new
Forrester report released Thursday, which assesses nine media
agencies under $20 billion in billings: Assembly, Dentsu X, Hearts
& Science, Horizon Media, Initiative, Mediahub, PHD, Spark
Foundry, and Vizeum.

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In the report led by Jay Pattisall, the market research company
assessed the agencies based on their market presence, offerings,
and strategy, including how well they were handling issues like
brand safety, transparency, and media vendor relations. They were
ranked as leaders, strong performers or contenders.

Here’s how these different media agencies are reinventing

Agencies are merging media, content and context

While most full-service media agencies develop content, the best
ones put advertising in the right consumer context.

One unnamed agency, for example, hacked ad-blockers on websites
to promote Netflix’s “Black Mirror,” targeting ad-blocking
consumers with messages about the persuasiveness of technology to
promote the series that warns of societal dependence on

Forrester also lauded Mediahub, saying that clients liked the
IPG Mediabrands agency for its transparency, use of emerging
technologies, and creative applications of media.

They’re proactively addressing marketers’ transparency

Nearly three years since the
Association of National Advertisers issued a bombshell report

that painted the media buying world as being rife with widespread
illegal rebates, some agencies have cleaned up their act better
than others.

The report singled out Horizon Media, the largest independent
agency in the US, as an example of a media agency that gets
transparency right by having commissioned PwC to independently
audit its practices.

Others are rethinking how they buy media

Some full-service agencies have reduced their dependence on
reselling media in favor of using curated marketplaces, according
to Forrester.

Hearts & Science, for one, operates private marketplaces
that let clients directly buy ads on publisher’s websites at
pre-negotiated rates, ensuring brands’ ads end up where they’re
supposed to, reducing costs, and minimizing waste.

“Its ability to create private marketplaces to ensure impression
quality and its strong belief that clients should own their data
and tech contracts shows high proficiency with data analytics,”
write the analysts.

Agencies are using data to show attribution

Agencies are recognizing that media strategies need to be
informed by consumer insights, so they’ve set up business
intelligence units and data analytics practices to benefit

One unnamed agency has access to the CRM file of one of its
clients, including the brand’s leads and sales data. This helps the
agency anticipate marketing problems and show sales lift using
closed-loop attribution, according to the report.

They’re building media plans across platforms

From TV and social media to OTT streaming devices, people
consume content on more channels than ever, and media agencies are
getting better at targeting people accordingly.

For a MailChimp campaign, its unnamed media agency placed Easter
eggs relating to the brand in pop cultural conversations across
cinema trailers, social ads, video content, SEO and SEM among
others, the report said.
PHD is MailChimp’s media agency

Forrester also cites Spark Foundry as good at helping promote
clients’ content across paid, owned, and earned media.

“Leveraging the Publicis data platform, its strong content
practice shows ingenuity in placing content in environments not
easily purchased, such as scripted comedy on network TV,” the
report says.

Agencies also are using machine learning, experiential, and voice

Several agencies are also pumping money into machine learning
and artificial intelligence to help clients figure out where best
to spend their ad budgets and which ads are driving sales and
leads. The report cited MDC’s Assembly, Dentsu X, and Horizon as
agencies that are using technology like machine learning, voice,
and VR and AR, as well as experiential marketing for clients.

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Media agencies are under massive pressure to reinvent themselves. Here's how the biggest ones including Horizon Media and PHD are evolving to meet clients' demands