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News Analysis 31 Aug 2021 - 3 min read

Mediabrands CEO Mark Coad: Media agencies must stop eating their young or face the consequences, restructure and automate for post-Covid world

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Mediabrands boss Mark Coad is deeply concerned that rampant poaching and over-promotion is creating double negative effects: driving up wage inflation while putting people under too much pressure in jobs some will be unable to handle. Then they leave and the situation gets worse. Mediabrands is building tools to automate the drudge work while baking in flexible working arrangements in order to attract "intelligent, creative souls" – and give them more time to do intelligent, creative work that drives growth.

What you need to know:

  • Mediabrands CEO Mark Coad says agencies need to rethink some of their recruitment tactics, as staff are being wooed and promoted above their pay grade.
  • He says that is unlikely to end well – pressure piled on top of pressure will inevitably mean more staff become disillusioned with the industry and leave, exacerbating a negative cycle. 
  • Mediabrands is trying to bake in greater flexibility over working arrangements and automate some of the "manual media" tasks to reduce some of that pressure and give staff time to do smarter strategic work, creating an environment that attracts smarter, creative people.
  • Coad also thinks that the two years spent centralising its operations – bringing Kinesso and Matterkind's technical firepower to bear alongside UM and Initiative – is paying off, and that's where the money's going.

High salaries are being tossed around and others are being promoted two or three years before they are ready. It’s worrying from a sustainability point of view – either these people grow into the roles … or they get burnt out.

Mark Coad, CEO, Mediabrands

Mediabrands CEO Mark Coad says media agencies are facing a time bomb of their own making. The talent crunch has led to rampant poaching, wage inflation and over-promotion. He thinks it will all end in tears, burnout and an already depleted industry going through the floor.

“It’s a tight market for good people. We are seeing some hiring activity that could be… problematic,” Coad told Mi3.

“High salaries are being tossed around and others are being promoted two or three years before they are ready. It’s worrying from a sustainability point of view – either these people grow into the roles … or they get burnt out.”

He’s hoping for the best but fears the worst – and says it’s a live conversation at MFA board level – because it’s happening across the board.

There’s a time and a place to “throw people into the deep end”, says Coad. Given the pressure of an extended lockdown, with many already approaching mental exhaustion, now is not that time. He thinks the prevailing recruitment approach could have lasting damage.

“The last thing the media sector wants is for people to become disillusioned with the industry,” says Coad.

“Of course want people to grow into roles and rise into senior positions. But that’s based on the person and what they can handle.”

Of course want people to grow into roles and rise into senior positions. But that’s based on the person and what they can handle.

Mark Coad, CEO, Mediabrands

Take the heat out of the kitchen

Mediabrands wants to be an employer of choice and Coad says to get there, media agencies need to reassess and rebuild their operating structures and genuinely put people first – not just lip service.

Coad says the days of the “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” mantra are well and truly over. He says the kitchen needs a “redesign” if not complete rebuild.

That means better enabling hybrid working structures, rethinking the purpose of the modern office and automating drudge-work like manual media confirmations.

Basically, making the industry a place younger people actually want to work – and better harnessing their minds to do more of the smart stuff clients think they are buying.

“It's pretty hard yards [starting out in media agencies] but we're trying to find ways to remove some of the menial and less glamorous tasks, not just for our own financials but for the benefit of staff retention and recruitment,” says Coad.

Mediabrands is now building the tech and tools used for automation in-house.

“It’s about looking towards smarter, efficient, and more productive ways of luring the most intelligent, creative souls out of universities and not burying them under media confirmations for a couple of years only to see them change their mind on the industry,” Coad says.

Get that right, he says, and the P&L will look after itself.

“Our focus is on how we use automation and technology to take some of that away from us and our people and have them spend time learning and developing in areas that can grow revenue.”

It's pretty hard yards [starting out in media agencies] but we're trying to find ways to remove some of the menial and less glamorous tasks, not just for our own financials but for the benefit of staff retention and recruitment

Mark Coad, CEO, Mediabrands

The hub and spoke flexible office

The workplace is also becoming an anachronism. Mediabrands is aiming to bake in flexibility in balance with output, responsibilities and personal preferences.

Coad says the office will likely see a 60/40 daily split in those working in the office and from home on any given day.

“There are functions in our environment where staff don't need to be in the office at all. But we've also got people on the front line that possibly do need to be more involved with the office,” Coad says.

“What we won't see is people missing from key meetings on Thursday because that’s the day they work from home. That's not that's not the balance we're looking for.

“If there is to be a function that requires us to be together, then we'll be together – if not and the output doesn’t suffer, then work from home.”

While front of house staff and client facing roles will continue to work in the office at a higher rate than those in analyst or admin roles, it won’t stop those staff using hybrid working arrangements, says Coad. But people in those roles will need to be more flexible about when they take their days in and out of the office.

There are functions in our environment where staff don't need to be in the office at all. But we've also got people on the front line that possibly do need to be more involved with the office.

Mark Coad, CEO, Mediabrands

Centralising firepower

Over the last two years, Mediabrands has also redesigned a centralised support structure for its brands – a “core data and tech spine” that brings its adtech and specialist data units Kinesso and Matterkind closer to UM and Initiative to bring to bear greater technical firepower.

Coad says that’s where the money’s heading, as brands seek greater capability from fewer partners across their business.

Coad points to the recent project between Matterkind, Kinesso and UM for Menulog, which trialled first party data matching across Seven’s BVOD platform 7Plus.

The food delivery platform notched up a 37 per cent increase in campaign conversions after the trial – and got a first taste of how data matching with a broadcaster can work.

Coad says the collaboration is another example of how media agency revenue streams are shifting away from traditional planning and buying and into consultancy and tech strategy.

“You look at traditional media agencies, a lot of the revenue was in execution and it's not in now - it's further upstream,” Coad says.

“It’s around how we provide consultancy and skill sets and advice to clients on how they will operate in a data digital and tech-led world.

“I wouldn't say it's the vast majority of our revenue, but it’s certainly where the growth is – as it should be because that's the service we ultimately can provide that is worthy of rivalling our expertise in media execution.”

Meanwhile, Coad praises TV networks for reading the auguries and collectively taking steps to move with the market into data-driven advertising.

“The TV teams are really doing a good job to work with not just us but all agencies and brands on how they can accelerate the execution of high value audiences,” Coad says.

“Addressability at scale is something they have really leant into and succeeded with, so while you’ve got those who are still scratching their head – and it’s a complicated world so I understand it to a degree – TV networks are really getting ahead as far as traditional media is concerned.”

You look at traditional media agencies, a lot of the revenue was in execution and it's not in now - it's further upstream. It’s around how we provide consultancy and skill sets and advice to clients on how they will operate in a data digital and tech-led world.

Mark Coad, CEO, Mediabrands

Opening up creative

While Mediabrands and the broader Interpublic Group has “creative horsepower” within the group, Coad says it is open to “working with any creative partners best suited to the task”.

“We've won a couple of pitches in the last 12 months on an open architecture model… so I'm not so stressed about that.

“That model has served us very well and it's been more competitive in that space. We don't necessarily have to be pushing our own creative partners.”

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

Market Voice

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