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In Forrester’s Media Agency Wave, Creativity And Agility Lead The Pack

In its first-ever Wave evaluating media agencies with under $20 billion in billings, released Thursday, Forrester recognized agencies that leverage their buying clout and understanding of the media landscape in creative ways.

MediaHub, Hearts & Science and Assembly were Leaders in the ranking. PHD, Spark Foundry, Horizon Media and Vizeum were Strong Performers, while Dentsu X and Initiative were Contenders.

“The level of creativity being applied within this group of media agencies is really impressive,” said Jay Pattisall, principal analyst at Forrester and one of the authors of the report.

Hearts & Science was a Leader for its creative negotiating style. Rather than relying on parent company Omnicom’s buying power to get the cheapest rates, Hearts & Science curates private marketplaces that aggregates clean, fraud-free inventory at pre-negotiated rates for clients.

And Assembly, owned by smaller holding company MDC Partners, was noted for its ability to walk away from negotiations to find more competitive deals. That’s rare for agencies in large holding companies, which often get locked into expensive upfront deals with big TV networks.

“It used to be that the more dollars you handled, the better rates and more efficiencies you would negotiate,” Pattisall said. “This group’s ability to be very agile in negotiations gives them just as much of an advantage in the marketplace.”

MediaHub, on the other hand, was named a Leader for its creative approach to media planning. One example is the campaign it ran for Netflix’s technological dystopia series, “Black Mirror,” which targeted tech-savvy individuals likely to use ad blockers. MediaHub was able to break through by understanding exactly who Netflix wanted to speak to and what type of placements would resonate with messaging tied back to the premise of the show.

“It’s a campaign that created influencers because people were talking about it so much,” Pattisall said. “It inspired the use of analytics and technology in a very creative way.”

Strategic thinking FTW

While Forrester also recognized other Strong Performers, including PHD and Spark, for their use of creativity in the media plan, they weren’t strategic enough when evaluating new reporting methods and testing emerging technologies.

One anonymous client of Spark said in the report: “It goes to the question of how are they pushing us to think about our business differently: What’s next? How do we future-proof? I’m missing some of that.”

While PHD, Spark and Horizon were recognized for their abilities to execute, Forrester claimed they lacked innovative thinking. Agencies in the Leader category, on the other hand, are newer, which helped them avoid getting locked into established ways of working.

“The larger, more established of this group of agencies absolutely show operational strength, but [newer agencies’] strength lies in their strategy,” Pattisall said. “They’re using bespoke experiences. Strategically, that makes a lot of sense.”

As for the Contenders, dentsu X, which just launched in North America, was dinged for not yet having a consistent offering in the region. And while Initiative has had impressive new business wins like Liberty Mutual, Nintendo and UPS, it’s still working through a turnaround process that began in 2017, after it lost 3.6% of its revenue and lacked any sort of new business pipeline.

Forrester based its ranking on 26 criteria as well as agency responses and client feedback. Initiative and PHD declined to participate in the study but were ranked anyway.