RAPP’s US Media Chief Builds Bridges Between Creative And Media

Piluso RAPPMedia and creative are merging, and agencies are rushing to become experts in areas where traditionally they were not.

Full-service agencies like Hill Holliday and MARC USA, for instance, are fast-tracking their media planning and buying abilities. On the flip side, media agencies like GroupM’s Maxus are working to build stronger ties with creatives.

Count Omnicom’s RAPP as another bridge builder. In mid-August, the creative/CRM/digital agency hired Steve Piluso as its US head of activation and media. His prerogative is to establish a stateside media-planning discipline, connecting creatives with media planners and vice versa.

Interestingly, the link between media and creative tends to be stronger in the UK. As RAPP North America Chief Strategy Officer Jessie Kernan told AdExchanger in a prior interview, “The UK has quite a robust media-planning practice, and we’re beginning to integrate a lot of what they do into what we do.”

The disconnect in the US between media and creative reflects the tight bond clients have with their creative agencies, Maxus Global CEO Lindsay Pattison told AdExchanger, also in a previous interview.

“Whereas in the UK, media agencies are definitely top table because media agencies work with creative agencies, digital agencies and technology partners,” she said. “They’re seen as bringing everything together and are probably the most strategic partner for clients.”

For Piluso, whose media background includes tenures at PHD Media and MindShare, the confluence of media and creative is an evolution – at least for RAPP.

“It’s a growth in a certain direction that hasn’t existed before in order to capture a greater footprint with our client’s business by providing solutions across a greater portfolio of disciplines,” he said. “As we see those disciplines blending a bit, it made sense to bring in some media thinking.”

Piluso spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: How do you plan to execute this initiative?

STEVE PILUSO: It’s best to talk about it as a phased approach.

The first thing is bringing in a media sensibility to a creative agency. Bringing more of an understanding with how users are engaging in channels and bringing that back to the strategy and creative teams so we can create solutions grounded in how people consume and react to messaging and content.

So it’s a media consultancy instead of media execution?

It’s more of a high-level strategic consultant, bridging the gap between RAPP and the media agencies we work with. In some cases, its OMG media agencies and in other instances, they’re from other holding companies. It’s a focus on bridging that gap between two separate entities. There’s too much of a disconnect between brand strategy and brand implementation.

Where are the biggest disconnects?

I speak to this as a person who has worked in media agencies for 20 years. Sometimes there’s too much of a quantified approach to channel consumption and not an understanding of audience emerging patterns. Sometimes agencies use data and syndicated research as old as 18-24 months. Twenty years ago, that was okay to use, but the world changes so rapidly that if you’re using data 18-24 months old, it can be dated. And it could have come from a time when the economy was in a very different position, so people’s attitudes around media, channels and brands have changed a lot. Creative agencies work more in real time and do more primary research than media agencies.

Sometimes what we’re trying to do around brand positioning isn’t manifested well in channel selection, because we’re using a rearview mirror on the media agency side.

Are you building out technology components to assist with this data-gathering apparatus?

We already have that. Data is very much part of the RAPP DNA. We’re taking advantage of what already exists here and applying it to a media context.

Will RAPP invest in buying platforms?

For media-buying purposes, we’ll be leveraging the scale, mass and expertise of Omnicom Media Group. There would be no reason for us to invent what already exists and what’s already world-class.

In the US, RAPP has a consolidated group in Los Angeles that buys media for AAA. How does your hiring affect that relationship?

The group functions as the central strategy and planning group and reaches out to the buying agencies. My role doesn’t change the way we operate with those agencies or how we service AAA day to day. My coming on board as a more senior strategist is taking a look under the hood – no pun intended – of everything we do with AAA, and figuring out how to do it better.

We should think a lot more about advanced analytics, better attribution modeling and the better integration of mobile. I’m just bringing a higher level of expertise, but the way we’re servicing AAA and our remit doesn’t change.

What skills will you need to build out internally?

Going back to what I said before about a phased approach, we’ll need people with a more strategic sensibility around media and brand strategy. We’ll function more as communications consultants working with activation agencies, that will be the skill set. Further down the road, as we win business or get signed through clients, we’ll build downward to people who are more tactical. Media planning and possibly work closer to the trading process to work more closely with the buying agencies.

Will RAPP ever have its own execution arm, or will you always leave that to OMG?

We’ll have an in-house media and strategy agency. Not the buying internally. That’s how I see it, and that’s how we do it in the UK.

Do the media agencies see this as RAPP stepping on its toes?

They shouldn’t. I’m an asset in the creative agency, trying to help link what we do to what they do. Media agencies should see it as a partnership to help translate between what creative agencies do and the expectations of those agencies and those clients to better media implementation. I would hope agencies we partner with, whether aligned to our holding company or not, would see this as a role about facilitation and creating better work.

What misconceptions does the creative side have about media buying and planning?

I don’t think there are misconceptions per se. At individual levels, there are people who have a better or worse understanding of what media people do. There’s an optimistic perception on the creative side that the media side is changing so quickly they need someone to help distill it all down and help them understand what it means. I’m linking creative and technology people with the ad tech community a little better to have better meetings. So they’re not just lunch and learn type of things, but they’re actually running workshops to create innovative and better solutions for clients.

What sort of solutions do you envision linking creative and technology?

Anything’s on the table. Anything is possible in the technology world, it just requires the dream and the time to develop. The idea of addressability either creatively or through a media perspective is there. The idea of dynamically serving experiences is there. The idea of doing extremely microtargeted efforts across audiences, or extremely microtargeted location-based mobile things are on the table.


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