Everyone is under pressure. Re-plans are rife. Rationales are being re-rationalised. You may well be feeling the pinch yourself, perhaps seeing increases in childcare costs, a horrifying energy bill or even a weekly shop that shocked. We are staring down a strange mix of economic conditions, meaning 2023 is set to be another roller coaster for advertisers and agencies.

Despite this, the latest Bellwether Report shows marketers intend to spend. The adspend forecast balances out at a modest -.03% decline, with video and digital video gaining from other channels. This contrasts with the (slightly) more upbeat IAB forecast last year which revealed single digit adspend growth of 5.8%, driven by specific categories such as B2B, travel, entertainment and finance, and particular buoyancy from digital.

Wherever we bottom out, many advertisers will have smaller budgets than they might like while others who have increased their budgets may be juggling more inputs and scrutiny from teams beyond marketing (not only from the “f word” – finance).

Many will be drawn like a fly to the blue light right now in reverting to cautious and “recession-safe” media plans. It’s well established how it’s important to keep investing in brand when things get tough. The easiest response might be to focus on proven channels or to follow econometrics learnings to the letter to keep the lights on from a reach perspective. Manage your 1+. Spread across more active weeks. Slam down the laptop. Job done, right?

Not quite. Alarmingly, the December IAB report also highlighted how a staggering 65% of clients plan to adjust media plans at least monthly. This endless cycle of short-term re-planning that leads to ‘recession-safe” plans ironically holds considerable long-term risk. There are burning issues that’ll come to define our (clients and agencies) shared futures for which we must find solutions now – recession or not. 

For example, embracing a cookieless future. Yes, it’s been a long time coming. But is 2023 the year when plans will test new data and ID-led solutions as we surely must? When are we planning to rummage through the Google Sandbox to establish what will work best for our client? 

Or attention. It makes a lot of sense in theory, but have we found the right balance between reach and attention in media plans? Are we investing in new channels and tactics that allow for greater effectiveness than last year’s plans? 

What about the most important year yet for sustainability? Is reporting carbon and offsetting it with a few thousand pounds per media plan really the best we can do? Are we happy only to match last year’s carbon offsetting? Or worse still, do nothing?

If we’re not going to tackle these challenges with innovative, creative media solutions now, because the timing’s inconvenient, then when will we? For me, it’s in the inconvenience of the now that we must find the strength to solve our clients’ problems of tomorrow.

As instinctive problem-solvers, this is our moment to shine and the pandemic has shown agencies are up to the task. So as we enter a year of inevitable debate about budgets, scenario planning, replanning and reassurance, we must, again, fight our corner as our clients’ most trusted, valuable partner to push and lead our clients to future proof plans. What does that look like? 

We need to make a plan that drives progress for clients, using data and evidence to make the entire business confident that media is more than just an amplifier of creative; that it’s a critical growth driver or even campaign lead. 

Against this backdrop, there are bucketloads of brilliant opportunities to be more creative in media this year. No, I’m not talking about the metaverse here. I’m talking about enriching media ecosystems with new tech, data and performance elements to genuinely connect with audiences. Media owners will also be innovating heavily this year, so partnerships can go deeper and further to deliver brilliant brand experiences. 

Clearly, monthly re-plans are not conducive to delivering the best value here either.

Being a true partner to clients is not just about pivoting inventory and keeping the reach lights on. Agencies must push forward innovation to future proof their plans for clients, co-creating an annual vision and delivering real breakthrough on big topics. Or else, recession-safe will be the downfall of media progress right at the moment when a different type of media plan is needed most. 


Jackie Lyons is head of planning at Havas Media Group UK



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