Media Industry Leaders on the Changing Tides of TV Advertising

Convening for its first in-person networking event since the pandemic began, the Atlanta Ad Club gathered an illustrious panel of media industry leaders at the headquarters of Havas Atlanta in late April for a compelling conversation about current media buying trends, the growth of new audience-measurement tools, and the existing and future state of cross-channel TV advertising.

Lauren Fry, Chief Revenue Officer of Simulmedia, on stage were Ashley Andrews, Creative Director for Wunderman Thompson; Krista Lang, SVP of Investment for Empower; and Marie Hughes, SVP of Strategic Media Planning for Warner Bros. Discovery’s Turner Media Group

Joining host Lauren Fry, Chief Revenue Officer of Simulmedia, on stage were Ashley Andrews, Creative Director for Wunderman Thompson; Krista Lang, SVP of Investment for Empower; and Marie Hughes, SVP of Strategic Media Planning for Warner Bros. Discovery’s Turner Media Group. Here are just some of the highlights of their wide-ranging discussion:

Fry: So much has happened in the media and advertising business over the last couple of years – not to mention just the last couple of months. Krista, from your perspective at Empower, what do you think the most significant changes have been for brand marketers? The accelerated audience fragmentation? The rise of alternative measurements and currencies? Something else? What’s impacted your day-to-day the most?

Lang: Fragmentation is definitely a big thing. We're hopefully going to see some consolidation, but I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. Our buyers are faced with a real challenge of trying to figure out when to buy and how to reach that target consumer. So I think that's a huge part of it. And then obviously associated with that is planning and measurement. Since Empower is a full-service agency, we have to plan against an audience, figure out where they're at, understand unduplicated and incremental reach, buy that audience and then measure it on the back end, inclusive of not just reach and awareness but sales as well. And then we have a lot of CPG clients, so shoppable media is also big for us.

Fry: Marie, what are the challenges you’re seeing from your position at Turner, which has been a powerhouse in cable TV for decades?

Hughes: Our business is so much more vast than just linear now, with our sports properties in particular driving to cross-platform, as does our kids’ business. So for us, it's really about staying ahead of trends and [understanding] the complexities of the market and the media world. That’s the biggest challenge for us: Where should we be buying at any given time? What’s consistently a converter for our business as our business evolves? When I came here nine years ago, we were straight tune-in -- that was our end goal -- and now with the emerging consumer behaviors, it's just constantly evolving.

Simulmedia hosting a panel about Changing Tides of TV Advertising at Atlanta Ad Club

Fry: Ashley, from a creative lens, does where an ad is going to run – linear vs. CTV – matter? Does it affect your creative process?

Andrews: Honestly, I think it's less about CTV vs. linear and more about the space in which it is happening. So if [the ad] is on TV and it's for general awareness, it's going to be running for three months, which to me is very different than something that's associated with a cultural event and how I would treat the brand storytelling for that. What I'm really looking at is: how are people ingesting this content? What frame of mind are they in? What are those motivational behaviors that they have, whether they chose to watch on a phone, through Hulu, or through cable. It’s more about the head space that the audience is in based on what they’re watching around the ads.

The Current State of TV Ad Measurement

Fry: How do you feel about the current state of measurement for you and your brands? What is your one burning need in terms of where it needs to get better right now?

Lang: I think being able to understand incremental reach, unduplicated reach, where we're reaching the consumer, where's the next best place to do that. And then are we driving what we're supposed to be driving? It's extremely fragmented right now on the buy side, so the biggest issue we have is consolidating all of that data into one platform to be able to have a holistic view. Some partners are able to do it cross-video, some are able to do it cross-platform. Piecing that together is extremely difficult to do; it's very siloed right now… There's not going to be one provider.

Hughes: I totally agree we are dealing with lots of fragmentation. Essentially, our enterprise is subscribing to many different methods of methodology. Obviously, we're going to tout Nielsen in trades -- that's still the marketplace currency. But if you read about us, you're seeing deals with iSpot, deals with Samba, etc. If you put your eggs in any basket [or tool set], you're not protecting yourself, you're not protecting your business. You can make your direct deals -- that's all well and good -- but if you don't balance and check yourself and look at the different variables and partners, it's quite dangerous because everybody's selling themselves as the next Nielsen. But no one's going to be the next Nielsen, really. So I think comparing and contrasting and being sensible and realistic is critical right now.

Fry: If you have different clients, do you enable each one of those clients to transact on a different currency based on what their outcome is? Is that what’s in our future?

Lang: I don't think it's the future, but it's the reality that we have to deal with right now. Certain clients especially may need to operate in a certain way. So, we're actually using this as an opportunity. We have 25 different clients that we service from CPG to financial to DTC. We have the opportunity to invest their budgets to test and learn and then compare and contrast those measurement solutions.

Hughes: I completely agree. At the end of the day, you want to give clients and brands an element of control and comfort and a measurement outcome that they feel most validates their buying. We're struggling right now with just standardizing terminology on conversion. That's a lot of indifferent interpretations to different clients and different needs. At the end of the day, it’s good to have lots of options but I don't think we're ever going to take 10 steps back and go exclusive with one [measurement] partner. It's an open market -- let's explore, let's test. There's nothing wrong with that in our business.

Simulmedia hosting a panel about Changing Tides of TV Advertising at Atlanta Ad Club

Fry: What are the operational implications to that? Is more automation needed to be able to scale when there is so much optionality?

Hughes: With the [right] resources, automation is obviously very beneficial. It is practical. But we also believe in a human element too. I'm very wary when everyone puts everything into a machine-based outcome and everything into science -- we do really believe in a balance.

Lang: I definitely agree. Being able to see the trends from an automated perspective and being able to get a source of truth [is important], absolutely. With so many disparate data sources coming in together, it takes a lot of resources to build that from a pipes perspective. But the human element is extremely important because as we see today, everything changes all the time. So we have to be able to pivot. We have to be able to introduce new things. We have to be able to move at moment’s notice.

Hughes: A lot of times, machines can't react to real-world problems. As we’ve joked recently: who would've predicted COVID -- what machine is going to predict the outcome of an actual, global pandemic? That's not a variable that is easily digested. So you need to have a human element.

Andrews: As the creative person, when I hear words like “automation” and “machine,” I want to just crawl under here and never come out. There's a place for that, but I think the danger is when clients think that is the solve for their product or their brand in general. That really works when there is a holistic plan. You need both brand and performance creative. But a lot of times, clients are just trying to get the best bang for their buck, so they're going to throw everything into performance. But if no one knows who you are, it's not going to perform well. So, I want to make sure that, yes, we look into where those efficiencies make sense, but I want clients to understand it's not like a magic bullet in terms of just throw this into an automated machine and sales are going to go crazy and everyone's going to love your brand.

Fry: We probably all have had that conversation with clients. Where have you been successful in being able to convince someone that just wants their sales to happen right now?

Andrews: Typically, you can have some success if they have some budget for testing. So you can say, let's have a couple of different runs at this so we can test for different things. I think the other thing is, sometimes you have to have that hard conversation with a client and say, “We know that this is how much you have, and this is what you want to do, but we're telling you this ain't our first rodeo. You put that money in there, you're going to be really disappointed. So instead, let's backtrack, let's do this and this for you.” I've even done a full-on test brand campaign for a client [where] it was like, we're going to run this for six weeks. So we can at least look at brand lift. And then we can continue in the second half when you have more money. And then we can put some more assets out where maybe we are testing some performance, but we're still boosting brand because you're new to the category. You just have to be able to have those conversations. Do they listen? I've had success where they do. Sometimes they don't and then you just have to say, “Well, this is our recommendation. We can do this for you but we need you to understand that we didn't recommend this. So, if it doesn't work – not our fault.”

How to Approach the May TV Upfronts

Fry: As we speak, the May TV Upfronts are just a few weeks away. What should the sell-side be thinking about for the buyers as they approach this market? And what’s something you wish you could change about this process?

Hughes: Flexibility. We are a scatter-based buyer at best. We have some joint business partnerships that allow us very flexible terms. Locking in budgets based on network or based on platform is ridiculous. If you're going to exclusively make me buy this platform at this CPM, you're not getting our money. We will walk from those businesses. And I think a lot of clients are walking away from those businesses for that reason.

Lang: This Upfronts is going to be different in the fact that we're already seeing that they're going to require us to spend about 50% of our dollars in digital and streaming on their properties because they're growing that business… Between 40% and 50% is what we're seeing, which is good because we want to follow the consumer. It's also educating our clients that CPM is not the same as what they're getting. I think it's going to be more flexible. I think audience guarantees are going to go to plus demos instead of direct demos. I think they're moving towards a more impression-based understanding, which is great.

Hughes: On the digital commitment side, I think you'd be naive not to want that at this point. I think a lot of what the market was lacking last year was the competitive advantage on audience targeting. So I think that some partners have been better than others at getting ahead of trends in building tool sets that allow their clients a look in. But I think that's an absolutely critical component right now. If you have to educate clients on the validity of a digital buy and a streaming buy and an OTT layer, then you have to give them the service to replicate what they're doing within their own toolset from the linear standpoint. I mean, sometimes we've had better targeting with our linear programmatic layer than we could have with some of our OTT partners. That's ridiculous. Nobody's going to just buy broad-based genres anymore. You want something deeper than that.

Lang: With our price-sensitive clients, we're taking baby steps. Luckily, with a lot of our clients, we have been buying a lot of OTT and we’ve been following the consumer. So it's about essentially moving that budget over and combining it for hopefully better buying power. But we're actually moving our teams together, too. Our video team is traditionally more linear [but] we're going to the Upfront together as a digital and linear team. We're focused on the holistic view.

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