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Rufus Chuter on the Resurgence of Media Strategy

Strategy is about a plan of action to achieve a goal. It should determine tactics but be distinct from them. But Rufus Chuter also says it’s a massively overused as a term and often misunderstood. NZ Marketing chats to the Managing Partner at Together about what makes for a good media strategy and how to best connect this to brand strategy.

What makes for a good/ effective media strategy?

Ultimately, one that delivers the communication and business outcomes required. That’s really the north star of any strategy – does it deliver on what you’re trying to achieve?

Within this, I think marketers should expect an effective media strategy to work within a wider brand and communication strategy, as well as creative platform or idea. Too often I’ve seen media strategies that don’t do this. They live in a media agency vacuum, compete with a communication strategy, or steer an idea away from what makes it powerful.

Finally, a defining feature of an effective media strategy is one that’s actually executed. As Colin Powell said, “strategy is execution” … there is no strategy if it isn’t executed. In media I think this is becoming even more important, but also more problematic for legacy agency models. It means strategy and execution need to work even more closely together, with the daily decisions on contexts, audience design, optimisation journeys made within that strategic construct. Too often a media strategy is handed to a separate team or even agency to execute or buy and the strategic spine that has to drive the execution gets lost.

This can happen for a bunch of reasons: from a trading commitment dictating media buying decisions, through to programmatic specialists being three steps removed from the actual strategy. It’s also a challenge for creative agencies offering media strategy services. The days of media strategy being separable from buying or platform activation are numbered.   

What is the downfall a bad media strategy, what challenges do marketers face in this regard?

Modern media planning is so complex that there are many aspects that can trip up effective media planning. These include:

Bad data. Media planning is complex and too often can be disconnected from the business or brand outcomes that media is there to deliver. Whether that’s a focus on vanity metrics or just not having the right measurement approach in place, media is swimming in data but too often it’s meaningless, misleading or just wrong. It’s only going to get worse as the walled gardens get higher and attribution gets more fragmented.

Competing strategies. I think sometimes media agencies are so desperate to prove that their strategic thinking is valuable that they focus on competing for share of voice in a presentation rather than maximising share of voice for an idea. Ideas persuade people, media orchestrates how that idea is experienced. They have to work together.

Media trading. Making commitments at an agency or group level to spend a certain amount with a media owner across all clients is a fact of how some agencies and groups operate. But to me it always seemed to undermine the very point of a media agency: impartial advisory. When a media agency is also a media owner, picking the right media for the strategy with genuine impartiality must be hard.

Who should champion this strategy, agency or client?

Traditionally media strategy has been the remit of dedicated agency “strategists”, but we strongly believe in democratising strategy across Together and in partnership with clients. As I’ve said, execution is now more strategic than ever, so everyone needs to champion and align around the strategy in order to deliver it. 

That’s not just in agencies, but also in the blended teams we create with clients. Developing and executing strategies require more collaboration and teamwork across disciplines like data, technology and customer experience and between the agency/client relationship than ever before. Strategic development is hands-on, messy and collaborative. The days of a planner retreating to their ivory tower for two weeks before delivering a strategy solo are done.

How does one best translate a master-brand strategy to into media strategy or is it one in the same thing?

They’re not the same, but they are connected.

How a brand is experienced through media matters. Media behaviour builds the brand. Therefore, a brand strategy should determine brand behaviours, where it turns up and how, the signals it sends through media. I passionately believe all media planners need to understand brands, how they work and what they mean for media behaviour.

With many media agencies beefing up their strategy teams, do you think we are seeing a resurgence of media strategy?

Absolutely. It might sound counter intuitive given media buying is becoming more automated and algorithm-driven, but modern media demands more strategic thinking then ever before.

Why the resurgence? It’s never been easier to buy media, meaning it’s never been easier to buy the wrong media. The growth and fragmentation of channels alongside the increasing ease of buying from them means marketers need more, not less, strategic media guidance.

It’s also never been more challenging to identify and connect with audiences. Competitive advantage in the next era of audience-based media buying will come from the ability to identify the highest value audiences and translate that into bid strategies to win that impression and creative tactics to leave a lasting impression. It sounds highly scientific, and in many ways it is, but it’s also really strategic and often very creative. But it demands more than simply buying media space.

At Together we believe advantage in this next era of media has shifted from buying scale, to creating impact through high value audience identification and distinctive media experiences. We’re moving beyond a media era defined by “cost per thousand exposures” and media traded to deliver this, to one in which “cost per valuable attentive second” matters much more. That demands much more strategic and creative media thinking from agencies, more collaboration between specialists within agencies and client business, and more quality relationships between agencies and media owners. There’s never been a more exciting time to be a media strategist.

About David Nothling-Demmer

David Nothling-Demmer is Editor of NZ Marketing magazine.

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