The MiC media agency review with Lauren Richards

MiC reached out to some of Canada's media agency leaders to find out their thoughts on some of the issues facing the industry right now and how they plan to address them. Today, we feature new Media Experts CEO Lauren Richards.

MiC reached out to some of Canada’s media agency leaders to find out their thoughts on the year behind, and the year ahead. Here, new Media Experts CEO Lauren Richards talks about some of the challenges facing the industry today and how Media Experts plans to address them.

What are the biggest challenges facing media agencies today?

The challenges aren’t changing very quickly. It’s not new news, but I honestly think our challenges have been fairly constant in recent years for media agencies to be able to get appropriately remunerated by our clients; the difficulties media agencies face in keeping ahead of the digital/technological advancements and growth in this area of communication and the dearth of great quality media practitioners for the future.

The increasing advancement of cost-cutting procurement practices creates tremendous turmoil and dissatisfaction with media professionals as the procurement specialists often do not understand the business of media. The media buying and planning industry keeps adding capability and extensions to our process and scope of work and we aren’t very good at monetizing it. The days are long gone when we strictly planned and bought. We collaborate extensively and get intimately involved with the production and the creation of advertising, on ideation and innovation. At the other end we are more and more accountable through the metrics of media and analytics, but we are still in the dark age about our media remuneration.

We are overpaying underdeveloped digital specialists, which is causing a lot of issues in the business. A lack of brilliantly directed digital activations and a lack of integration, while at the same we are having to eat away at the precious aforementioned media compensation.

We are not necessarily attracting the best and the brightest due to the industry’s poor showing on the recruiting front and our dismal starting salaries. If we can coax some high potential entry-level people in, it is very difficult to keep them motivated long enough to make media a career due to the entry-level duties and most significantly due to the salary for the first few years.

How is your agency working to address them?

We structure compensation deals with our clients that can stand the test of time and that will ensure we can have the right mix of talent on business over the long term. We don’t believe in pitching at any cost in order to ‘land’ an account. I have found if you commit to senior capabilities and depth of involvement, a commitment to ideation and above and beyond expectations of commodity based media decision making clients appreciate it and usually have been waiting to embrace it. I think a lot of media agencies have been their own worst enemy, going lower and lower, sacrificing excellent service, consistent talent, quality thinking and senior resources.

We, as media leaders, have to be willing to walk from deals that don’t make good business sense for the health of our industry. I don’t believe in taking deals for the benefit of additional revenue or clout alone. If a company isn’t appropriately compensated service and capability will eventually start to be affected, and the company and talent will deteriorate.

Part of the reason this is so important is that we have to invest to keep ahead of the growth in digital, in mobile and in content integration across all platforms. This has implications to the talent we hire and retain, the training and inspiration required and investment in research and technology. Media Experts has made a huge investment in digital development and has very highly respected capabilities in search, mobile and understanding the specific behaviours of today’s digital consumer.

In terms of investment in talent and retention, Media Experts has a track record of tremendous tenure of employees. There is a huge investment in their training and bringing the country together with special events several times a year to enable better collaboration. [We are] reinvesting the profit back into employees through contribution-based incentives based on their performance. The creation of an entrepreneurial, creative environment to encourage people that the possibilities are endless is a very motivating factor for attracting and retaining good people.

What are you most proud of at your agency in 2010? How will you top it next year?

The group here at Media Experts seems to be most proud of the fact that they are no longer a well-kept secret. The company has successfully grown and developed over the last 30 years, but the profile of the company is still fairly low-key and not that well-known, especially outside of Quebec.

Media Experts had a lot of amazing news this year that helped accomplish this feat, with two especially big annoucements. The first was that Bell was coming onto the client roster and the second being the announcement that I was joining the company as CEO and Mark Sherman was moving into an executive chairman’s role. Both of these announcements seemed to really catch people off-guard, which is always interesting.

Mark co-chaired the Media Innovation Awards and was visible to the Toronto media industry, which he traditionally hasn’t done often. He’s preferred to guide from behind the scenes and hasn’t sought a high profile. Media Experts entered a lot more work than they typically have in any awards and they found out that participation can reap the benefit of additional profile and intrigue, given they had work recognized across categories and businesses.

And lastly, existing customers continued to grow their business with Media Experts, as evidenced by the completion of being awarded the remaining dealer group activity for BMW and Mini.

We hope to top it by continuing to surprise the industry. Hopefully by continued growth and development of our customers business, recognition of our product, increased involvement in the industry and ideally by continued growth in categories we would love to be engaged in. We will be making some bold decisions about diversified services that I believe Canadian clients are looking for. We are very keen to add a top-tier financial institution to our roster, a fast-food client and I would love to be able to add a great movie business client, to name a few categories we are especially interested in.

This article originally appeared on Dec. 24, 2010 as part of an overview article called ‘The MiC media agency review: Corner office edition‘. Media in Canada will be running the features profiled in the article all this week.