Automation Uncovered III: The new partnership dynamic


In the third instalment of our in-depth exploration of automation, we look at how the pandemic years have accelerated and emphasised the strategic importance of partnership working in creating agile and responsive businesses.

Collaboration has always been at the core of successful agency and client relationships, but as investment in tech, data and automation drive brands to transform into more flexible and agile organisations, it has taken on a renewed importance.

Extracting the true value from data and automation means monitoring and acting on the insights produced at speed. For many organisations, that means restructuring to support smarter, more responsive decision-making and new ways of working.

Evolving relationships

Transformation and the increasing importance of data are driving organisations to break down the internal silos that separate teams. It has also been a catalyst for brands investing in ad-tech and bringing media expertise in-house.

Pharmaceuticals giant Bayer AG has boosted its internal capabilities over recent years as it has undergone digital transformation. Eric Gregoire, SVP – Global Head of Digital and Media at Bayer, says the move has empowered its teams and given it more control over its media, data and content while also evolving and strengthening its relationship with its agencies and technology partners

We now have real-time visibility on how our media and creatives are working across the world. Anyone from a global category head to a country head can look at it and see how our brand campaigns and creatives are performing at any moment. Data and tech adoption truly empower our teams and enable them to ask our partners more relevant questions and collectively take better-informed decisions. What we expect from them has also evolved.

Eric Gregoire
SVP – Global Head of Digital and Media at Bayer

Nadine Thomson, Chief Technology Officer at MediaCom, says this growth of knowledge and understanding of data means both partners can have better conversations that focus on strategy, with less time spent explaining.

She adds: “There is power in everyone looking at the same data and seeing it as the single source of truth. Friction can be caused by everyone looking a the data differently, pulling it together differently and coming to a different conclusion.”

Single source of truth

As brands grow their internal understanding, the relationship between agencies and brands can evolve into integrated partnerships. Ryan Conroy, Group Director, Systems Technology at MediaCom, believes this develops, as both teams better understand each other, the use case of the data and overall objectives.

“Where we begin to transcend the old relationship and work in partnership is when we can dive into what the client and their teams need. When we understand who in the business is driving the project, who is using the data and why they need it.”

At Dell Technologies, obtaining that single agreed source of truth led to its Delve Transformation Project. This saw Dell update its reporting structure to better reflect the changing needs of the client and the client team, expanding and exposing the available datasets.

Working with MediaCom, the Delve project led to the automation of Dell’s data reporting, the creation of a data warehouse to include all data and updated business logic. The result is a single version of the data that is shared by Dell and MediaCom so everyone has the same information.

Jessica Byran, Director, Insights and Analytics at MediaCom, who is part of the Dell team, explains: “Delve as a platform solution has automated our data collection and reporting, improved data integrity and created a centralized hub for internal and external teams to easily access data with consistent taxonomy and no coding required.”

Winning back time

Alongside empowering teams, automating the collection process creates better quality data, leading to better insights and more intelligent decision-making while also saving significant time spent on manual tasks.

In the past, around 80% of time was spent gathering and collating data, and about 20% of the time was spent on analysis. Automating those processes injects much more power in those teams because they can spend their time on identifying insights and making strategic decisions.

Nadine Thomson
Chief Technology Officer at MediaCom
80 to 20 per cent 3

Kenneth Davies, Customer Engineer – Agencies at Google Cloud, who collaborated with MediaCom to develop its suite of mLab measurement automation tools, adds that this allows staff to be redeployed into more strategic roles.

“It is a case of understanding where you can get the most value out of people. Moving people away from monotonous tasks means they can do more strategic thinking and go deeper into what the deliverables are. That will be of more value to the customers.”

The potential scale of that value is demonstrated by a global entertainment client, which saved 1,300 working hours per month by automating one data report. Using Synthesis, a proprietary tech solution for media plan management, the client’s team bought together 700 media plans across 75 territories.

Worth more than $250m a year, it has previously relied on collating Excel blocking charts from local markets and manually combining them. It was labour-intensive, prone to errors and a barrier to local marketers reacting quickly to local market factors.

By automating the process, a live report is created that is accurate to that day and can be customised by region and media. The report also provides insight on budgeting, planning and, through a new function called a Firm/Flex report, a real-time view on “shiftable” media activity.

A long journey together

Digital transformation drives transparency right through organisations. It highlights where internal skills and capabilities can be boosted, and new expertise can be developed.

While brands are becoming more self-sufficient and agile, this transparency will also make it clear where it makes more sense to bring in trusted partners to complement their new models and promote growth. There is no one size fits all solution, however.

Gregoire explains: “We are all on a long and ambitious journey together, so we have to be more transparent, with each other and across all our key partners with clear ambitions and KPIs. We want to know where the opportunities lie and, by strengthening our collaboration, we can accelerate our test and learn approach, and speed up the scaling of best practices. We work all together with a more strategic and collaborative mindset."

This bigger picture approach moves agencies into a more consultative territory and not only promotes collaborating with brands as partners but also with sister agencies to find the best solution.

Cross-agency collaboration is the very essence of WPP’s new relationship with The Coca-Cola Company. Drawing on capabilities across creative, media and data, OpenX will be a crucial partner in the transformation of Coca-Cola’s marketing effectiveness and efficiency.

This transformation will enable a consumer-first view that is supported by measurement, and accounts for both outside-in and unconstrainted data assets in delivering meaningful end-to-end experiences.

The traditional media ecosystem is blurring with some overlap as brands develop their in-house capabilities.

“The [marketing and advertising] industry is changing so fast,” says Gregoire. “Look at the wave of innovation and speed of transformation in the past 10 years compared to the past 40 years. Every couple of years, it is almost like learning a new industry, it is what makes it exciting.”

Agencies are developing new expertise, mindsets and skills and will need to keep doing so to keep pace in this dynamic landscape.

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