Digital Media: The Convergence of Integration and Specialization
Digital media has catapulted from an add-on media feature to a dominant medium, accounting for 30% of media purchases and $49 billion in annual media expenditures (in 2014). In 2015, digital media is an integral part of nearly every media plan. But integral and integrated are two different things. What are the best practices for truly integrating digital media into planning?
At Harmelin, we have a clear mantra: Begin with the End in Mind. Digital and conventional media are purchased to achieve our client’s business goals. Integration is critical to ensure the cohesiveness of every media plan. An integrated plan is evaluated holistically, rather than assessing each individual medium in a vacuum.
This seemingly simple concept – the integrated plan – has recently become a buzzword in the ad world. While integrated media programs are not new for Harmelin – we’ve been doing them since our founding in 1982 – they are relatively new concept for digital-only firms. So what are the best ways of achieving true digital integration?
Key to success at Harmelin is the Digital Point of Contact (DPOC) position. The DPOC leads the planning and strategy for each account and serves as the liaison between Harmelin’s clients, the account team and the digital activation specialists who serve as our buyers for search, social, video, display and other key digital channels. We invested in this structure to bring digital expertise into our traditional and non-traditional media account teams while maintaining the advantages of having specialized digital experts involved in every stage. The DPOC investment was an instant success, based both on client success stories and customer satisfaction discussions and surveys.
The DPOC model has continued to expand with increased integration. Harmelin has fine-tuned the DPOC operation and incorporated the DPOC into the account planning teams. The media planners and DPOCs share adjoining office environments and regularly support each other in account operations and skills development. In this arrangement, our traditional media planners continue to increase their digital fluency while our DPOCs gain an understanding of the intricacies of offline media.
What is the secret to diversification while remaining cutting edge in your field? Harmelin established an innovation team that serves as the backbone for digital planning and is at the forefront of processes, standards, best practices and innovation. Ongoing meetings, training and even a monthly “Innovation Blog” facilitate basic and advanced training modules. Harmelin also incorporates the knowledge of its vendors with formalized training and opportunity programs with preferred partners that are leaders in their industries.
Another key benefit to integration is to provide the most effective, efficient, and innovative plan at all times, independent of the media selection. Harmelin strives to keep all recommendations unbiased, focused solely on the client’s success. Integrating media allows for vital critical review without preconceived conclusions, with every participant an advocate and expert on their medium yet understanding the role each element will play in together creating the best plan.
The process involves the planning teams working together to develop the client demographic audience and their daily media consumption patterns. By analyzing the media day, the team gains insight into how the audience thinks and behaves. We then input this data into our proprietary media planning software system that considers all media channels and then factors in success metrics, execution dynamics, feasibility and multi-audience adaptation. We are also careful to consider the creative opportunities and challenges and work seamlessly with the client’s external creative teams to help ensure success.
If integration is integral to success, why doesn’t everyone do it? For many others, it comes down to cost and personnel. The DPOC requires additional staffing, an expense that Harmelin absorbs without impacting client fees. For us, the benefits far outweigh the costs. Investing in people and providing the highest level of customer satisfaction and service of any agency in any market remains Harmelin’s focus and one of its key differentiating features. As one of the largest independent media buying firms in the country, Harmelin has the autonomy to put client service before corporate profits and is not constrained by Wall Street expectations or parent company mandates.
A second hesitancy may come from the lack of experience and expertise in the myriad of offline media. Harmelin has been dedicated to media for 33 years and has more than 200 experienced media professionals, each experts in their fields and often cross-trained for integration and professional development. This familiarity with everything from traditional media to viral opportunities leads to rich, strategic discussions during planning sessions and beyond.
As media channels continue to converge, it is more critical than ever that agencies not only understand and account for the cross-media impact of traditional and digital channels, but the cross-platform impact within individual channels as well. The days of full integration and media fluency are quickly approaching. Harmelin is ready today and will be ready tomorrow at the dawn of what’s next.