The emergence of the media agency is no longer a new phenomenon, but rather a trend which has overtaken the industry in the last 20 years. But it wasn’t always this way. This Monitor takes a look at how this came to be, the value that a media agency provides to its clients, and why this is a trend that won’t ever be reversed.

Interestingly the original media agencies formed in the 70s were mostly buying services, and not viewed as strategic partners. Their currency was largely barter/trade which is always tricky, and it was several years before the concept of a media agency gained real industry traction. But as the largest agency holding companies began to examine and consider spinning off their media functions into separate companies in the 90s, the idea exploded. What was the genesis of the media agency?  It was borne out of the growing complexity of media itself, first the explosion of cable TV, and obviously later in the 90s the growth of the internet. In addition the proliferation of multiple types of niche “guerilla” media increased the complexity of the media options. As a result the average consumer went from receiving a few hundred advertising messages daily to several thousand today.

Fast forward to today, where the vast majority of media placed is done so by media agencies, and not by media departments of ad agencies. In fact media departments of ad agencies have been eroding in population, and even in existence. One of the difficulties a general ad agency faces in trying to maintain a media function is the heavy cost for doing so. There is far more media research data available today than ever, and far more expensive technology to deliver that data, which makes having a serious media function within a general agency a far more costly undertaking. Again the growing complexity of media has fueled this issue.

But this phenomenon of “specialists” is hardly related to media agencies alone. The growth of PR, social media, digital media, etc. has lead to a proliferation of specialists in various communications segments.

We are proud to be among the largest independent media agencies in the U.S. We take pride in the value we deliver in our strategic thinking and buying process. As we often say, we “eat and sleep” media--100% of the time, every day. Call us media geeks, and we’ll say thank you. But there’s no shortcut to focus and though many of us grew up in an era where we had worked in media departments of ad agencies, there will be far fewer media departments in the years to come, and far more business placed through media specialists.