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‘Media is now everything from Marvel to the metaverse’

It is an exciting time for the industry, Nick Emery, founding partner of Brandtech Media, tells Dave Winterlich

The media landscape has become increasingly fragmented. Ad technology has redefined the role of a media practitioner as a blend of planning craft with technical platform proficiency. The advertising and particularly the media industry has changed almost unrecognisably over the past 20 years, to the point where few agency founding partners, or even their successors, remain.

This week on the Inside Marketing podcast, I talked to Nick Emery about new agency structures, the problem with holding companies and a lot more in between. Emery is founding partner at Brandtech Media, part of the Brandtech Group, and joint founder and former global chief executive of Mindshare. He has a passion for media, has worked through its transformational years, learned his craft and is energised about its future.

As Emery puts it: “Media is really exciting right now, it’s everything from Marvel to the metaverse. What’s not exciting about that?”

What is different about Brandtech Media? “Our model is to build a global talent pool for clients around an automated spine, assembling and dissembling talent dynamically around a client’s needs for there is a gap there.”


There are structural issues with the existing, so-called holding company model, he says. “Firstly, there’s a separation of creative and media that we put back together. And, secondly, there are two different languages spoken within agencies; one by the people who understand platforms and another by the people who understand brands. The current structure leads to a split between the people who activate, the people who build the product, and the people who plan and service clients.”

According to Emery, a key difference of the Brandtech model is its agility. “The mentality of the large networks is one of ownership and selling bodies. Many of the big holding companies have seen growth on the back of an extensive mergers and acquisitions strategy over many years. The model tends to be one of ownership and control rather than one of partnership.”

He points to this as another issue facing holding companies. “If your solution is around a clients’ interests, then it should be built around an open-source technology as opposed to pushing your own technologies or products such as application programming interface. No matter what tech buy, you can’t make yourself an inventive culture, and that’s the difference between a founder-led company and a manager-led one.

“We are a founder led company, as Mark D’Arcy, now our partner and chief creative officer who recently joined us from Facebook, said about what Brandtech founder David Jones has created. ‘We are a company built on founder energy’.”

Media is now data-led. “Data is the glue that binds everything. If you want to know your products and you want to adapt your products and you want to drive change then, yes, data, insights and segmentation are key. But organisational structure differences remain. It is important to realise that while you have all this data. But if your sales, marketing and technology teams are not speaking the same language, then how is the data going to actually change anything?

“The industry is becoming more fragmented; media and creative agencies face increased competition from independent consultancies,” Emery says. “I have always struggled to understand what makes our industry attractive to the consultants. I see why agencies want to get into consultancy as it offers a higher margin, but I fail to see why consultancies wanted to get in the media business.”

His view is that many of the recommendations he sees from consultants to clients are completely unactionable as well as exorbitant. “They have never worked in activation so they don’t know how to implement their recommendations fully. So you see fantastically expensive and pointless documents about how a client should look in a new world and how they should digitally transform. But none of these can be actioned because they haven’t understood how the marketplace or platforms really works.”

If you are truly in the business of transformation, according to Emery, then you have to understand how systems and technology are deployed in the market. Excited about media and technology, he understands that media today requires a new breed of planner, someone who can blend the craft of brands and storytelling with platform specialist capabilities. “The real alchemy is in the mix of those two skills, but such skills are in short supply as we’re coming from a binary position of one versus the other.”

There is a lot of talk in trade press about how media is an industry under threat, Emery makes a great point here when he asks: “Why is media so fascinating and exciting to CEOs but media agencies are not exciting to CEOs?”

“If you look at what the luxury brands are doing in the metaverse, it is fantastic. It’s market leading and it’s not just luxury brands: companies like Kraft-Heinz and Pepsi are also doing amazing things in the realm. They are experimenting and maybe they don’t get everything right but they are trying. But it is the clients that are driving this - apart from Brandtech! - not the agencies.

Media should be the most exciting driver of change because it’s integral to everything

“It’s either a case that the agencies have pigeonholed themselves into a cheap media-buying operation, or they are not seen as strategic enough, or they don’t have the right relationships. Whatever the diagnosis, it’s a fundamental problem because media should be the most exciting driver of change because it’s integral to everything.”

I was inspired after talking to Nick Emery. There is too much debate between long vs short or mass vs targeted. Far too many of the marketing commentariat simply push their own agenda, arguing their point to the exclusion of anyone else’s, but Emery understands that the greater success comes somewhere in the middle.

“You can have an Oxford Union debate about whether brand metrics or addressable metrics are most important, but the answer is a blend. People will still watch the Superbowl but advertising will soon be 70 per cent digital. You must also consider what is in your clients’ best interests. It may not be doing what Google or Meta tell you to do. You need balance and context, the walled garden and the open web.”

Emery believes the future is an anti-agency one, constructing and scaffolding residencies in-house for clients so they never have to pitch again. “Media is dynamic. I think you must have inbred flexibility around a tech spine to show them what they can do with their data, provide strategic advice and adapt teams every quarter based on what their needs are, because their needs in January are not the same as September.”

The landscape is complicated, and the future will bring more change, but Emery sums up the challenge nicely.

“I think the only thread throughout everything is that media is the glue. That glue for certain clients might be ‘just go and buy me some space and give me a social expert’ while for others it might be ‘how do you manage my content, construct my whole clean room and take it through from audience to activation’. You have to be able to bookend the whole thing.”