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The Buy-Side View: Q&A with Total Media’s Mihir Haria-Shah

Tim Cross  22 June, 2020

Mihir Haria-ShahIn this edition of ‘Buy-Side View’, we speak with Mihir Haria-Shah, head of broadcast at Total Media, a UK-based independent agency. In this interview, Haria-Shah discusses why there’s currently more talk about OTT advertising than investment in it, why he wants to see more aligned measurement for video, and what he thinks broadcasters can do to compete with the big social platforms.

What is your biggest bugbear when it comes to video and OTT advertising?

One big bugbear is terminology. We have so many terms for what is essentially the same thing, or subsets of the same thing. And the biggest reason why it’s a bugbear is when when we talk to clients about it, often they can get quite confused by the terminology. They may read one article which talks about OTT, and then they speak to us and we refer to it as connected TV, and then they speak to someone else who refers to the whole ecosystem as advanced TV.

And then also if you look at the programmatic world, there are so many different terms in that world. Clients often get a bit confused with it, and they lose trust in the media as a result of it. Obviously, we don’t want the video market to go down a similar sort of route.

However, what I’d say is probably my biggest bugbear is the lack of aligned measurement, across all video metrics. It always becomes unclear within agencies where certain elements of videos should sit. We’re quite lucky as a small independent agency where we’re quite fluid with budgets and expertise between our teams, so it can either sit in the broadcast team or the digital team. But again when you’re talking to clients, there’s a lot of confusions if the broadcast team is talking to them about video, or the digital team is talking to them about OTT and connected TV. So I think as an industry something that we need to kind of get better with is alignment of measurement and metrics.

Which do you think video advertising is the most effective for – generating awareness and brand-building, or driving short-term sales?

It really depends on things like how well established the advertiser is, what other advertising they’ve done or are currently doing, and what the product is and what they want to achieve as a result. And it also depends where in the purchase funnel a particular campaign is sitting.

So if we take linear TV as an example, it is the ultimate brand builder. And I still don’t think there’s any other media that could do the role of TV. But I think TV can do the role of many other media channels, and it’s obviously pretty versatile. TV can be incredibly effective at driving short term sales, and especially for your FMCG type brands.

We’ve seen just in the lockdown period some FMCG brands who have decided to capitalise on the value in the TV market, and they’ve actually reported back to us that they’ve had some of their best ever weeks of sales – and that’s not just due to panic buying.

However what I would say is the development and TV tech and the rise of OTT or CTV and has given video a bit more of a platform further down the funnel. So obviously, as I say, linear TV is very much top of the funnel, but actually OTT and CTV can be a bit more contextual, which you’d ultimately place a bit further down the funnel in the purchase cycle, almost playing the role that social video would would play.

Are you investing in OTT advertising? How will the shift towards OTT change your TV buying strategy?

Yes, we are investing in OTT advertising, but not as much as we’re talking about it. And I think a large part of this is due to my personal interest in the space, and also the agility of Total Media as an independent agency. That’s meant we’ve been able to have conversations with clients for a long period of time, around OTT and CTV opportunities.

However due to limitations we’ve discussed already, things like measurement and also some of issues around scale and the level of impressions that can be delivered, the uptake hasn’t been as high as we would have hoped. And I think there’s some issues that the industry needs to iron out a little bit before we see more clients taking it on.

But what the OTT space has really done is reduce the biggest barrier to entry of TV, which is the cost of advertising on TV. It’s given a lot of our small advertisers the chance to consider being in a TV environment and in TV content, and interacting and engaging with audiences in ways they previously wouldn’t have been able to because they would have been priced out of market.

And for us as an agency, our proposition is behavioural planning – we have behavioural scientists to try and reach our audiences based on behaviours, as well as demographics. That’s something that’s not easy to do on linear TV, because of the way that it’s bought and sold. However OTT, and the data and targeting capabilities available on some OTT platforms, has meant that we can actually target households based on behaviours beyond just the current daypart, programme, and channel selection that we’re doing on linear TV .

So as an agency, we were looking at a more layered approach to our video planning in general, and OTT has slotted in as another line here.

What could agencies do better to help clean up the industry?

I think there’s two key areas where agencies can do more. The first one is just focusing on the ISBA report that came out this year, and the amount of value being lost in digital programmatic chains. Some of this is because of the way agencies report and take rebates and commissions, all those sorts of things. I don’t feel like that’s come into the video space yet, and I think that’s something that as an industry, we should really try to avoid. We’re fortunate again at Total Media because of the nature of the agency where we’re completely transparent with clients, so it’s something that we would definitely be pushing for.

The second thing is that agencies, rightly so, are always determined to demonstrate our value to to our clients, but it’s lead to a race to the bottom in terms of pricing. And this is ruining the credibility of video advertising a little bit, because it paves the way for fraudulent activity or unverifiable impressions, and all those sorts of things. If we consider the CTV and OTT world as an extension to the TV world, TV’s biggest strength after reach is that it’s completely brand safe, and it feels like all the other extensions from technology and whatnot should be seen as similarly brand safe and premium.

So, I’d say as agencies we need to stop rushing to the bottom in terms of in terms of pricing, and we have to accept that most clients do understand the value exchange between and paying for quality content and their positioning as brand.

Which metrics do you value the most when it comes to video and OTT advertising? 

I think a lot of it depends how we position it to clients.

Because of because of the nature of TV and reach being such a key metric to TV advertising, the question that we always get asked is what is the reach of OTT, or what is its incremental reach on top of linear TV. And I think that is the key metric from a client perspective. Because of the way that TV’s strength in reach has been ingrained in marketers’ minds,  they expect the same of OTT.

But we’re also seeing loads of other video metrics at the moment which are based around quality. Recently people have been speaking to us about qCPMs, where you’re paying a CPM dependent on the quality of the inventory, which is a really interesting proposition. And then clients and media owners are talking more about things like view-through rates and engagement rates

Ultimately, it’s about deciding what we’re wanting to achieve from a particular campaign or activity, and then working out the best buying and reporting metrics to communicate to the client with.

What could publishers, broadcasters and pay TV companies do to compete more effectively with the large social platforms?

So firstly, I’m going to ask, should broadcasters and pay TV companies be looking to compete with them? Obviously in terms of the financial and spending aspects, they definitely should. But I definitely feel that all these platforms have different roles to play, and can work well together too.

There’s been a lot of media coverage of how much spend has gone from TV into the big social networks, certainly in the seven years I’ve been in the industry. But I think clients understand the value exchange of that as well.

I’m also not sure it’s just up to the broadcasters to compete more effectively. I think us as agencies have a huge role to play here, we should be educating clients on the different reasons why we’d use one video platform over another one.

What I would say, and this is this is very much from a personal preference, is that broadcasters have an opportunity to compete around dynamic contextual targeting. One of social video’s strengths is tapping into consumers’ existing passion points. And with regards to broadcasters, they’ve all been talking about doing contextual targeting in a more dynamic way – Channel 4 has been particularly vocal about this. So for example you might see a scene where you’re looking at a mobile phone, and then you go straight into the ad break and the first ad you see is for a mobile phone.

I think if if we see some of these technologies actually develop and be rolled out on a wider scale, then that is a point where broadcasters can compete in a really effective manner with the social platforms.

Which person in the industry inspires you the most today?

There are so many people in this industry that have really inspired and influenced me. My interest in in this space comes from an old boss, Richard Fuller who’s now at Finecast. We used to call him the VODfather, and he’s been hugely inspirational to me.

Then with everything that’s happened recently in the world with the Black Lives Matter movement, I’m focusing my time and energy on how we can improve diversity in the industry, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I feel like I’ve got a bit of a platform to do that now having won the Media Week Rising Star award last year, and through that, I’ve also met some really inspiring people.

One is Karen Blackett, who I think is amazing. She’s really trail-blazed not only for BAME people in the industry, but also for women in the industry with her position. She’s made a real difference. And also Dino Myers-Lamptey stands out. He was one of the judges at the at the Media Week awards for me, and we connected afterwards and he’s unofficially become a bit of a mentor for me. Again, he’s a real trailblazer, particularly in the diversity space, and he’s just got his head down and is making a real difference.

And then more on the TV side, whenever I come to VAN’s conference, I always love hearing Dave Morgan from Simulmedia. I don’t know him, but every time I’ve heard him speak he’s been amazing.

Out of all the video and TV advertising campaigns you’ve been involved with, which are you most proud of?

The first campaign that I was really proud of is when I was at MEC, I worked with Halifax when they launched all their cartoon creatives, and that was really the first big campaign that I personally led.

But the campaign that I’m most proud of is one we did last year for Youngs Seafood. We won Young’s as a client midway through 2018 and they started spending in 2019. And the reason we won them is because we talked about a completely different advertising strategy to what they had done previously, which would help them to compete with their main competitor. For that campaign we did a partnership with Sky, where we used their data capabilities from their first-party set-top box data to look at the actual channels that buyers of Young’s products were watching. Young’s’ audience is usually housewives and kids, but we found that a lot of their actual buyers were watching things like Sky Sports News, which we would never have bought into previously.

So it was a really dynamic campaign. We used AdSmart to conquest their competitor, and it was certainly the most innovative use of data in TV that I’ve ever been part of. Plus, the results were fantastic for the client, and they’ve spent more this year as a result of it.

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