#AgencyFocus: TMI’s T and I — transparency and integration
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) The directors of The Media Image like to do things “properly”. For Quinton Jones, who joined agency founder Pete Brooke-Sumner in 2016 to head up its new media department, TMI Media, it’s something that’s lacking in much of the industry — particularly when it comes to integrated offerings. “A lot of big agency networks talk digital, but they don’t give it,” he says. “They talk integration, but they don’t do it properly.” Not so at TMI, he says.
Started in 2008 as a digital business serving up paid search marketing, the Cape Town-based agency grew over the years to bring in DoubleClick technologies and incorporate SEO, display, programmatic and content. The fiercely independent agency prided itself on transparency and trackability, at a time, says Brooke-Sumner, when there was very little of either in the South African digital market. After eight years of doing digital well, TMI was looking to expand its offerings.
As luck would have it, Brooke-Sumner met Jones, fresh out of Carat, where he had been group MD, and the two decided to combine forces to shape TMI into a digitally led media business, allowing it to pitch more broadly as a fully integrated service. “The integration of digital into the traditional media model has created an interesting scenario in the industry,” says Jones, “because you’ve either got agencies that are completely digital, or completely media, or you’ve got digital agencies that can do a little bit of media, or media agencies that can do a little bit of digital. To find an agency that is equally weighted and strong on both digital and media, to the depth you need it to be, is very difficult. A lot of agencies talk it, but they’re missing some of the pieces. The intent from our side was to create that integrated agency.”
Jones says that the partnership was an obvious one for him. “One of the main reasons I left conventional big media agency land is because the model is pretty broken in this country at the moment,” he says. “A lot of agencies are complacent, the quality of staff and servicing has gone down, and the businesses are very horizontal. The excitement for me was to get back into a smaller, independent, far-more-nimble agency that takes clients seriously. It was about getting back and doing things properly, working with the clients that we wanted to work with, and doing the kind of work that we wanted to do.”
TMI Media, as part of TMI, has gained traction over the past year and a half, says Jones, summarising his division’s progress as “so far, so good”, a sentiment reflected in the title of Independent Media Agency of the Year in the 2017 AdFocus Awards. He emphasises that success is measured across the business as a whole, which he estimates has trebled in the last 18 months. Client growth has been significant, he says, with many of the wins being integrated accounts where the agency services “across digital, traditional and anything else the client needs, right through to activations.” Major clients include Woolworths, whose ATL business was added last year to the digital portfolio already managed by the agency, Dunkin’ Donuts, SportPesa, Sygnia and Pam Golding.
Brooke-Sumner suggests that TMI’s costing model, centred on client service, may be part of the recipe for success. “From day one, there were models that worked for agencies rather than clients,” he says. “But from the very beginning we decided to work with the client and what they were comfortable with.” This meant alerting clients if it appeared they might unwittingly overspend on a brief, an issue in the days when digital was poorly understood, he says, and doing whatever they could to help them grow. “It means taking a campaign and asking, what is the best extraction for this for our clients?” he says. “And how can we transparently show them that we are doing it in their interests?”
“Relationships are a big part of who we are,” adds Lauren Foster, a fellow TMI director.
Jones agrees, adding: “The important thing is not about how we charge our clients; it’s an understanding of what that charge really is that counts. We’ve got different models that we use across the business; it could be commission, it be a retainer, it could be project-fee, it could be based on delivery. A lot of the business that we do is linked to risk and reward, so we put it down and say, if we don’t deliver, you can penalise us. We measure ourselves against the KPIs we set with the client. I really think that the industry needs to be open and honest, and it needs to take responsibility for the relationship it has with clients.”
This transparency is key to internal success too, say Foster and Brooke-Sumner, who point to open-door and open-access policies as factors in the agency’s low staff-turnover rates. All employees have access to, and experience with, all tools and systems in the business as part of what Brooke-Sumner calls a “culture of learning”. Promoting from within TMI ranks is also an important part of team growth, he says.
Going forward, TMI and its media arm will be looking to show the industry that an independent agency that’s not network-aligned can compete with the best — which they are already doing, properly, says Jones.
|themediaimage.co.za • Ramify
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her new column “#AgencyFocus” is an ongoing weekly series updating the market on agency performance, including business performance, innovation, initiatives, the work, awards and people.
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