MediaVest Cross-Trains Its Buyers

Taking yet another step closer to de-siloing its structure to more closely buy and plan media based on consumers’ habits, MediaVest is quietly rolling out a restructure of its investment arm. The Publicis Groupe unit has already evolved its planning and video-buying functions to embrace and understand the changes brought on by massive digital media and technological change. In this latest move, the agency is applying that thinking to the buying side in a sweeping reorganization and cross-training effort.

Donna Speciale, president of investment and activation at the agency, said the initiative reflects a new mindset that responds to changing consumer behavior and the corresponding shift by media companies to adapt their content to other platforms.

Under the prior structure, the print buying group handled a given client’s print spend, out-of-home handled the client’s outdoor business, and so on, although the groups would collaborate. Now, clients are being reassigned to single buying groups based on where the client’s spending is concentrated. At the same time, the agency has begun to cross-train its entire staff of 285 buyers in negotiating other media platforms.

Individual planning units and their heads won’t go away, Speciale emphasized: “There will still be experts [in video, print, digital and out of home]. We always need the knowledge in those areas.” The goal, however, is to enable MediaVest to more efficiently serve a vendor like NBC Universal, which today straddles video, out of home and digital, by reducing clients’ points of contact at the agency and bringing innovative, integrated media buys to life faster, she said.

“Consumers are starting to touch content when and where they want it,” Speciale said. “Our investment teams are now thinking with a behavioral-consumer focus.”

The cross-training—dubbed the “Cross-Athletes Program”—builds on a process started three years ago when MediaVest’s broadcast group, then under Speciale, was renamed the Video Investment and Activation group to reflect the growth of video on platforms beyond TV screens.

A similar evolution has already taken place on the planning side under Lisa Donohue, when a new philosophy and name were adopted for that group last year. The new, lofty sounding Truth and Design Group was meant to reflect that the term “planning” no longer adequately describes the process of connecting clients’ brands with consumers. Along with the name change, MediaVest reduced the number of people attending meetings to key decision-makers and introduced new strategy-setting tools to interpret data about client products and consumer trends.

The Cross-Athletes program is initially focusing on nine clients, including Heineken and TD Ameritrade, which were chosen because they target relatively narrow consumer segments. (The shift won’t immediately impact other MediaVest clients with multiple brands and consumer targets, like Kraft and Procter & Gamble, but those brands are being kept in the loop.)

Thirty-six senior buyers who work on those accounts are now being called “cross-athletes” as they learn about other media platforms. Training for the rest of the company is slated to begin in 2010.

The hope is that in the future, the buying process will become more streamlined from the perspective of media companies and clients alike, which now may deal with individual buyers for each platform. By cross-training buyers, Speciale also believes the agency will be better positioned to react as ad spending shifts from one media platform to another.

Clients and vendors briefed on the changes applauded MediaVest for taking steps to reflect a world less defined by traditional media usage. “This is the first step in taking down the silos,” said Michael Brownstein, senior vp, corporate sales at Meredith Corp., whose magazine brands include Better Homes and Gardens and Parents. “When we are able to bring multimedia integration ideas to the agency, MediaVest and Meredith will be able to work more hand-in-hand together.”

Mark Ellis, senior vp, sales, AOL, said that other agencies are trying to align their groups closer. “But I’ve not seen where they’re taking planners and having them cross-trained to the extent MediaVest is,” he said.

Indeed, most other agencies have and continue to take steps to de-silo their structures. But MediaVest’s move appears to go one step further than most of its peers by leveling the knowledge base of its core buyers to be pan-media-focused rather than limited to one discipline or another.

David Levy, president of Turner Sports and Turner Broadcasting Sales, said MediaVest was already bringing together buyers of different media to carry out multiplatform deals, but that the training would streamline the process. “It works well, but it can always be more efficient,” he said. “Why put six people in a room when you can put three?”

For some of MediaVest’s buying heads, the hope is that the cross-training also will accelerate media companies’ still-uneven efforts to be more platform-agnostic. “Some are dipping their toe in the water, but [this move] is going to force them to mirror our approach,” said Robin Steinberg, senior vp, director of print investment and activation. “It’s all about following the consumer.”  —with Michael Bürgi