4 Traits Every Modern Media Agency Executive Absolutely Has to Have

The role is fundamentally changing as the industry does

It’s time to recharacterize what it means to be a media executive.
Illustration: Getty Images/Ikon Images

The demands on the chief marketing officer today are unlike any that executives have faced. From rapidly changing consumer behaviors to the emergence of new tech solutions and access to more data, the proven models of success are under attack.

Doug Ray
Headshot: Alex Fine

The responsibilities of the modern marketer have now expanded so much that the lines between C-suite jobs have blurred. And there is no shortage in the interest on this topic—in fact, there are 4.4 million Google search results for “Changing role of the CMO.”

What hasn’t been written about, however, is how these same disruptions are changing the role of the modern media agency executive—and how agencies are struggling to make this change. On one side, media agencies must fully understand legacy media and how to extract the greatest value from it. And while the drumbeat of change is loud, TV will still command 40.3 percent of global ad spend in 2017. But, with digital spend forecasted to grow 13.2 percent this year, according to the Carat 2017 Adspend Report, a fundamental transformation is required.

This “transformation agenda” has quickly become front and center for most marketers and, in turn, agencies. To help marketers navigate the challenges of the digital economy, we must offer expert advice on a growing list of specialist topics such as marketing automation, ad blocking, attribution modeling, data mining and content strategy.

The leaders of our clients’ business tomorrow will categorically not look like those of yesterday. Some will come from a media agency background, but others will come from our clients, consultancies, digital media owners and tech companies.

Therefore, I think it’s time for us to recharacterize what it truly means to be a media executive. Here are a set of non-negotiable characteristics every modern leader should embody:

They are always curious. Specialized technical skills may seem like the most obvious requirement for the newest generation of media leaders, and though this is important, on a fundamental level, curiosity and a thirst for knowledge are the most vital qualities for success. The landscape we work in today is ever evolving, which means you can never truly master it, you can only work to explore it and recognize the next set of challenges coming down the pipeline. I want my talent to almost feel a sense of FOMO when there are areas of the business that they are less familiar with. Those with the capacity to learn and explore tirelessly are the ones that will be able to innovate and create success for their clients.

They inspire others to innovate.  In order to keep people within an agency engaged and happy, today’s leaders must inspire their teams by building a culture where learning is an everyday opportunity. Similarly, I truly believe inspiration is directly tied to innovation. At our agency, we believe that innovation is everyone’s job. Innovation is not something that happens in PowerPoint or an op-ed piece. It happens in the real world with real people and requires the ability to mobilize and empower teams. Modern media execs must know how to inspire and activate teams and empower them to innovate, whether it be within their own agencies or for their clients.

They are multifaceted. Whether you want to call them T-shaped, M-shaped or tri-sector, today’s leaders are required to command a broader set of skills than ever before. While many build their careers in difficult subject matter like strategy or data, once they reach the C-suite they need to be ready to add a combination of leadership traits that can nurture a positive office culture, as well as back-office skills that allow them to hire the right talent, grow profit margins and account for budgets.

On top of this, media executives are required to take their understanding of technology a step further. For example, we must have knowledge in leveraging tech stacks, and helping define what that stack looks like against your suppliers and how the data ladders back up to the overall business strategy. From there, it means applying that data to expertly targeted strategies, finding cost-saving efficiencies and uncovering insights that can guide a client’s business into the future.

They act as true client partners. Clients are increasingly seeking media agencies to help them solve their business challenges. We’re no longer limited to focusing on buying and selling practices, but now we are looking for creative ideas, based on our deep knowledge of the platforms and content that consumers want to engage with.

I want my talent to almost feel a sense of FOMO when there are areas of the business that they are less familiar with.

I was invited to a digital “hackathon” at P&G in 2007 around Tide’s “Loads of Hope” initiative. Each team had a goal of raising money by selling T-shirts using only social media. At the time, I didn’t think of myself as a social media expert by any means and was no influencer by Twitter’s standards. But, I dove headfirst into the medium, working and researching with media owners to understand the impact that social media has on consumers. By recognizing that this was a trend that our clients needed to immerse themselves in, I started to create confidence with my clients that I was an expert in this space, which only fueled me to learn more.

I want to reiterate as media executives we are increasingly looked to as consultants. Our leaders must understand the business from the perspective of the agency, the media platforms, the client and especially the consumer. This allows us to better counsel our clients on what the best media strategies are for their business.

Ultimately, our business is built on and driven by our people, so I encourage all leaders to stay one step ahead of industry changes, while seeking and nurturing the type of talent that will help drive our industry forward and make it a rewarding, exciting place to be.

Doug Ray (@DougRayPOV) is president, Product and Innovation at Dentsu Aegis Network U.S.

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.