Sarah Ivey on combating automation

The Agents of Necessity CEO outlines some steps for media agencies to evolve in 2019.


As 2019 gets underway, and the industry trickles back to work, Media in Canada is inviting media and marketing execs to share their New Year’s Resolutions around areas of improvement. Check back each day for more good-for-the-industry goals as we kick-off the final year of the twenty-tens.


By Sarah Ivey

One of my friends has a superstition that what happens in the first moments of the new year is a premonition of the kind of year you’re going to have. I know it’s a superstition, but here’s what happened to me in the early moments of Jan. 1, 2019: some merry prankster in my family set my phone to play Sam Roberts “We’re All in this Together” at 6 a.m. They actually did me a favour, as now I have a theme song for 2019.

So, let’s get to it. We’re all in this together, and so that means that 2019 will be “do or die” time for media agencies. I do a fair amount of research, both for our agency and for clients, and right now our work in the field of AI’s impact on marketing and advertising shows that media agencies are by far the most vulnerable to the incursions of AI. Both buying and planning are expected to be substantially automated in the next two years. And that’s on top of declining margins, pressure from procurement, in-house agencies, project work, pitch cycles… the list goes on.

This type of news can make the industry want to pull the covers over its head, but I see it as a rallying cry. Change is always extremely painful but it’s moments like this that force us to confront what needs to be done with more energy and action.

So, here’s what I think are necessary steps for media agencies to evolve:

  • Bring the craft back into buying and planning: Automation is inevitable. Buyers and planners who use judgement to choose between channels and content, and who understand the strategy to guide automation into a high value service, will be required. Invest in your people – create great client people, strategists, innovators, inventors, craftspeople.
  • Have a vision of the future: Media agencies should have a POV of what the future holds for their own sake, and not just a trend piece for clients. You can’t have a viable business plan without it.
  • Play nicely with others or else: We are never going back to a reintegrated agency system. Multi-stakeholder marketing is here to stay. Agencies who collaborate, contribute and build will always have a seat at the table.
  • Lose the short-termism: Amazon gives its businesses seven years to succeed. We don’t have that long, but we can certainly shift at least some of our thinking to build agencies that will be relevant two years from now, instead of managing this quarter only.
  • Become a data steward: Audience data isn’t the preserve of the media agency it once was, but it’s still a crucial piece of the puzzle for marketers. Walled garden attitudes and opaque practices are dying out (good riddance). The winners in this space will realise that data sharing leads to insight around a brand, which is the elusive goal of many marketers.

I have always maintained that media is one of the most interesting fields. In spite of what’s in front of us, I still feel the same.

Sarah IveySarah Ivey is the CEO and founder of Agents of Necessity