This year has seen a rare confluence of events in the ad industry as a significant number of the world's largest brands launched media agency reviews over a period of less than six months.
The list of affected accounts stretched across industries from packaged goods (Unilever, Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson) to cars (VW, BMW), beauty products, retail chains and financial giants (Visa, Wells Fargo and Citi, which just awarded its media business to longtime creative partner Publicis).
Given the fact that the companies involved will spend at least $20 billion on measured media next year, it's easy to understand why everyone in the ad world is interested in tracking this trend. But why did so many businesses choose the spring and summer of 2015 as the best time to reconsider their media options? In a word: technology.
"The data revolution has happened, and clients are looking at what capabilities their media agencies have, particularly as applied to analytics," UM global CEO Daryl Lee told Adweek.
This "revolution" is less about big data than it is about smart data. UM president of the U.S. Kasha Cacy told Adweek, "I think you will see all things analytics become the heart of the media planning/buying process."
Many of the massive international corporations in question want to cut costs across the board, and they're turning to data to increase the value of their media spends. One way to ensure that they're staying up to date, as measurement software and platforms evolve at breakneck speed, is to review their media capabilities by launching reviews that pit agencies against one another in a battle to prove which shop is closest to the cutting edge.
UM has been right in the middle of some of 2015's biggest battles—the IPG agency recently won the Coca-Cola, CVS and Johnson & Johnson accounts before adding spice brand McCormick & Company to its client roster earlier this month.
And the larger transformation is just beginning.
"My point of view is that the industry is in kindergarten when it comes to data," Cacy told Adweek.
As media platforms like Snapchat and Periscope proliferate and the audience's attention splinters ever further, media agencies have adopted more "holistic" approaches to the planning and buying processes. As Lee put it, "Everything in media is about pairing and complementing your capabilities, and you can't do that in one agency while maintaining a separation between digital and traditional." He added, "We don't build tech—we partner with tech companies so we can advise clients without having a vested interest in the technologies they use."
Regarding the McCormick review, Cacy said the UM team connected with the client via industry contacts and learned that the company was considering an RFP. After the initial introduction, McCormick chose not to launch an open review, instead holding a months-long pitch that pitted UM against creative/planning incumbent Sawtooth. (McCormick's digital agency of record, R/GA, assisted with the pitch.)
The difference in McCormick's marketing efforts before and after the UM win will be less about what consumers see than about which consumers see it—and when.
"On the back end, we will be much better at targeting the right people and doing different things for different segments [of the client's audience]," Cacy said.
In other words, UM's chief goal is to ensure that target audiences see the right kind of content in the right context at the most effective times.
Regarding the larger media landscape, Lee doesn't think 2015 is an anomaly.
"I don't think that we'll see the number of reviews that we saw this year, but the truth is we don't know," he said.
Cacy added, "In any industry going through rapid change, there will be a tendency for clients to re-examine their capabilities. I wouldn't be surprised if the pace of new reviews next year is robust."
So, disruption is now the status quo in the media agency world—and the same trends could soon carry over to creative.
"Creative agencies are all holding their breath," Cacy said, "watching the media review process and wondering, 'When is this coming our way?'"