Which job in advertising gives the most ROI?

Darren WoolleyIn this guest post, Darren Woolley wonders which role in an agency – creative, media, digital, planning or account management – is the most valuable to the client.

In benchmarking the cost of an ad agency’s staff, you generally find that the rate a client pays is commensurate with the experience or seniority of the resource. But the question of value goes beyond just cost to determining the return on the investment. So in considering the value we need to balance the cost of the resource against how much they contribute to the ROI.

It is important to note that all parties make a contribution. Media, creative and digital are all responsible for completing their part of the process to deliver the desired outcome. There is no point running media if you have no content. And likewise a great idea is worthless if no one ever sees or hears about it.

So putting these to one side, (collective responsibility and increase in cost associated with seniority) if we look at each of the individual functions, their roles and responsibilities and the cost, we can appreciate if any one area offers greater value than anyone else in the advertising process.

To assist with this, we are applying a value index purely to provide a numeric comparison between each and to further the discussion on agency value.

Starting with account management, this is seen as the lynchpin of the process, liaising between client and agency and managing the outputs of the relationship. The more strategic the account manager, the more value and insight they can add. But at the most basic role and responsibility the value they add is in quality control and the efficient running of the account. I would give them a value index of 5/10.

The strategy planner is responsible for developing the communications strategy, which is important in ensuring you have the right message to achieve the marketing and business objective. But quality strategists are in short supply and high demand commanding significantly higher rates than their account management colleagues and even some of their creative colleagues. Value index: 7/10.

There is a lot of focus on creative rates and fees, and it is true that at the top end, a handful of creative talent in creative director and executive creative director roles are charged out at significantly higher rates based on industry reputation. While much of the industry is focused on creativity and especially awards, many successful advertisers are not relaying on Award-Winning work to drive their business success. Value Index. 6/10.

Most agencies are increasingly integrating digital, but where they offer specialist digital resources (excluding off-shoring development to lower cost markets) there is still often a premium over their non-digital equivalents. This is often explained on the shortage of experienced digital talent. In the face of no obvious increased effectiveness or results this continued premium impacts the potential value of the resources. Value index: 7/10.

Media is still the largest investment area for most advertisers, both digital and traditional media. Yet media agency staff, except at the highest levels, are inclined to be charged at a discount to their creative and digital agency equivalent.

Media planners are often overlooked in the whole scheme of the advertising process, but they have the ability to ensure that the advertising message is delivered to the right audience in the best environment against the campaign requirements. Of course they have significant research and insights to inform and justify their strategy. But they also have the most significant financial investment as their responsibility, while paid comparatively less. Value index: 9/10.

Media buyers on the other hand get to spend the significant media budget using the media plan provided. In the process a good media buyer can negotiate additional discounts and added value to increase the delivered media value for the plan. In some cases, and with enough time, a media plan can add an additional 40 per cent or more in value. That is a significant return on the media investment and a huge return on the relatively small cost of the media buyer’s salary. But just delivering more value of the wrong media is no value at all. Value index. 9/10.

So there you have it. The hidden value in the ad agency is in the media department. They are paid comparatively less than their creative and digital agency colleagues, but they have the ability to deliver significant real and strategic value to the advertiser through their management of the media budget.

But as I’ve said, all parties have a role to play and value to add. But some more than others.

Darren Woolley is the managing director of client-agency relationship consultancy TrinityP3. He is also the former creative director of JWT in Australia.


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