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Predictions 2019: The year ahead for media agencies, by Zubair Siddiqui

Integration will be the name of the game in 2019, as teams, practices and agencies work closer with clients and publishers, writes UM’s Zubair Siddiqui

By Zubair Siddiqui, managing director, UM MENA

Key media consumption and spending trends for 2019

The gap between online and offline media consumption will increase significantly in both UAE and Saudi Arabia, reaching 70:30 in 2019.

The average time spent on linear TV (1.5 hours a day) remained stable in the last two years. However, the time spent on online TV/streaming will get dangerously close to that of linear TV in Saudi Arabia in 2019. TV billings on the other hand will continue to remain at 2018 levels owing to TV’s ability to deliver significant contribution to sales across the consumer packaged goods (CPG) sector.

The traditional radio world will get shaken up in 2019 with the rise of online streaming audio. Time spent in KSA on online streaming audio will reach two and a half times more than time spent on traditional radio. With the launch of services like Spotify and Deezer, online streaming is set to disrupt the fortunes of traditional radio.

Time spent on online print will be three times more than that of traditional print. Unless print owners don’t reinvent, they will see their revenues dwindling in 2019.

The cinema scene in KSA will explode in 2019. The number of screens active in KSA in 2019 will be four times more than that of 2018 and ad revenues will follow accordingly.

While the majority of growth in ad spends
will be on digital, there is very little evidence that total ad spends will increase across the GCC in 2019.


The agency model

The last two years have seen about 30 per cent net billing decline in the overall ad market in the region (and this money ain’t coming back). The need to redefine its operating model has never been more pronounced within media agencies. 2019 will see media agencies responding aggressively to the frozen agency model – predominantly disrupted due to economic factors and the rise of digital, and pronounced by the dependence on archaic revenue models. The pressure to deliver tangible sales outcomes to clients in an increasingly fragmented market will be the biggest priority within media agencies.

This means 2019 will have less lip service and more real integration of product – digital, social, search, programmatic and traditional under a consolidated offering. The silos between these specialised departments will increasingly break down, giving rise to genuinely integrated teams focused finally on holistic brand performance.

Integration will propel the need to have greater agility. Automation of specific client deliverable services will be commonplace through all sorts of dashboarding options. Collaboration tools are hence set to become the new fad within disparate agency ecosystems. Trello, Slack and Marcel are just a few examples that will not only act as task management tools, but also become tools to facilitate creativity and sharing of ideas.

Off-shore consolidation of media services to “good-quality-low-cost” markets such as Lebanon, Egypt and even Morocco will commence. This will enable agencies to manage costs in a declining media market and get leaner with staff strength without jeopardising quality. We’re really not far away from having non-primary services like payroll, etc. going the business-process outsourcing way.

While 2019 will see more global mergers within holding group agencies, as seen across WPP and Publicis, the trend of bespoke units for clients will also gain momentum within MENA where fully integrated and branded units of media, creative, PR and digital will be created to manage large brands and big spenders with remits across the MENA geography.


Data-driven marketing communications
will be among the buzz words within media circles for 2019.

We will see media agencies acquire and/or partner with more data products, technology platforms and digital performance offerings. IPG’s recent acquisition of Acxiom for an estimated $2.3bn, one of the largest acquisitions in recent months, is testimony to this rising demand from clients for greater performance. As we move away from cookies to signals, the data-driven approach will enable media agencies to construct profiles of individuals that enable one-to-one marketing at scale, thereby generating deeper insights and data-powered communications.

“Personalisation of message” is the game changer for large media agencies in 2019. The “spray and pray” approach to media targeting is declining at a huge pace. As clients demand lesser wastage in their media buys, addressability of content will gain prime importance in the months to come. At UM we have created the Addressable Content Engine (ACE), which is the centre of data, media, content and technology, generating personalised brand experiences at scale while creating one-to-one connections with audiences based on consumer insights and content consumption behaviour. We have witnessed anywhere between 25-50 per cent increase in campaign KPIs using ACE across different sectors. Dynamic creative optimisation will not only be the game changer but will also become an intrinsic part of media targeting, thereby increasing message relevancy, reducing creative costs for clients, delivering incremental KPIs and enabling revenue growth for media agencies in 2019.

E-commerce requirements will increase across sectors in 2019. This will not only bring digital spend growth but also require media agencies to integrate the e-commerce proposition including strategy, technology,
data and creative.


From always-on to more real-time in 2019 The need to enhance effectiveness and ROI will mean that consumer trends need to be leveraged on a more real-time basis. 2019 will see clients asking for more flexibility in their media deals to allow for quick-response content creation. Social media will reap the benefits on a tactical level with an increase in such spending.

Content marketing will accelerate new revenue streams for media agencies in 2019

A surge in made-for-digital content will be the hot topic amongst clients who have so far relied on standard TVCs to do the job. Reliance purely on creative agencies for content will continue to decrease, giving opportunities for media agencies, specialised companies and publishers to get more traction in the production game.

Independent content studios within publishers is a trend that has already gained momentum. Reach by Gulf News, DMS Studio, Al Khaleejiah Studio, etc. are pioneering content production, enabling media agencies to evolve new revenue streams though partnerships. Although in a not-so-distant future, these can act as direct competitors for agencies themselves.


Publishers and media agencies

The pressure on creating value will compel publishers and agencies to create bespoke service-level agreements and joint business partnerships tailored around individual clients’ needs. Short-term and tactical value will have precedence over long term benefits. This implies that sales-generating tactics will overshadow ‘branding’. While this is detrimental in the long run, the short-term focus of clients will be on getting “same for less or more for the same”.

2019 will also see a renewed focus on innovations beyond the traditional media buy. Publishers and agencies will be coaxed into delivering more than just audiences, including delivering sales and innovations.     


Talent: interdependency and agility will be key

2019 will require media agency personnel to be versatile beyond just numbers. This will require heightened efforts on training and retraining across varied functions including art and science. This will also mean that the focus will be back on maintaining a strong culture that fosters ‘interdependency’ between specialists and generalists, which will be key in order to deliver a truly integrated media product to clients.