MediaCom’s new(ish) CEO Sean Seamer believes creative agencies whose bread and butter business is expensive 30-second TVCs have a grim future in this tech-centric, data-heavy mobile world.

The problem, Seamer told advertisng industry magazine B&T in a wide-ranging interview, is that there’s simply no margin in making costly ads for the telly networks anymore.

I would not want to be running a creative agency right now because the core of my business, the TVCs that I built the agency on the back of, are becoming less important to consumers and to clients and it’s become an extremely low margin business, they simply don’t have scale,” said Seamer, who was elevated to MediaCom boss in October.

Scale is going to become so much more important, particularly as content becomes more and more short form. Creative agencies have no scale, they have no data, they have no tech strategy… and if you’re looking at where the industry is going in the next five years it is these agencies who will need to ask themselves, ‘Well, what have I got?’” he said.

Seamer admitted it was a controversial viewpoint, and added that everyone was doing creative — including his very own MediaCom, which has ditched straight buying and now goes by the moniker of a “content and connections” agency.

Another problem, Seamer said, was that a lot of agencies were outsourcing their tech to the likes of Google, Adobe or Oracle and “they’re just going to have the rug pulled out from under them because they don’t own the tech stack”.

Not that the planning/buying side of the industry isn’t without its problems, too. Many insiders argue that margins are now so tight in buying that the agencies have been forced to add a creative element for clients to make up dollar shortfalls.

Sure, there are problems in media planning and buying,” Seamer agreed, “and, yes, it has to become more efficient and we will do that through programmatic and automation and that is happening.

We as GroupM/WPP have to go through that transformation because of the investments that we have been making in technology. And it’s not just programmatic — that’s the easy answer. For us it’s about being much less of an agency and much more of being a genuine solutions provider whether that’s in data, in technology, in content; we’ll be focused on solutions and that means delivering genuine value back to clients. It’s a classic Rob Norman (GroupM’s global chief digital officer) quote, ‘We have no interest in being the tallest pygmy’”.

Seamer is MediaCom’s first CEO since the misreporting scandals of late 2014, and doesn’t believe his elevation to the top job was some sort of poisoned chalice after the ensuing firestorm cost the agency a number of its top-flight clients. In an interesting twist, Seamer believes MediaCom took the fall for an issue — inflated TV ratings, unreturned credits, client overcharging — that was widespread throughout the entire industry.

I think we became the poster child last year for the whole industry. Was it fair or unfair? There’s no use complaining. I think we all know we just have to move on,” he said.

And to be honest the senior management at GroupM handled it very, very well. The senior management were very transparent, they engaged the press, they explained exactly what was going on.

Yes, we lost some clients last year but we had a lot more stick by us and stay and they’ve stuck by us because of the people in the business. But at the same time I acknowledge wholeheartedly that we have a perception issue from a client point of view and an employee point of view. The only way to improve that is to make sure our people buy into the new direction of the agency, that we have a strong culture and a sense of self and a strong belief.

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