I like data.
It has stood me in good stead in this industry as I'm sure it has many others. Our campaigns produce tons of the stuff and increasingly agencies are reliant on companies that process and present this data to push our thinking forward such as Atlas and Doubleclick.
But data isn't (and shouldn't be) the be all and end all. It's easy to forget that data is a product of something that has already happened and as media planners we're often trying to find something new, especially in digital. Take search for instance, the ultimate data driven medium. We analyse search patterns and use algorithms to determine bid strategies; all based on what has happened in the past. There's nothing wrong with this but it can be a dangerous obsession and lead agencies to a one dimensional and commoditised offering.
To illustrate this point, I've seen and given hundreds of presentations that are based around a marketing funnel. Where data driven techniques are at their most potent is in pulling customers through that funnel and converting demand that is already there; think PPC search and retargeting. But this is an ever decreasing circle as it does nothing to actually create demand for a product or brand, it is just squeezing the most out of demand that's already there.
Advising a brand on how to act strategically to create demand requires a different type of thinking. This is insight driven, takes an understanding of a advertisers business, their product, their brand, their market and shock horror: 'people' and how they behave. There shouldn't be a spreadsheet in sight for planning purposes, no formulas or macros and definitely no definitive answers. Overlaying and translating all this thinking into media terms is a wonderful exercise and for us is what media planning is really about.
So as a digital media agency, the skill sets you need for a complete offering are hugely diverse and need truly different people, but that's what agencies should be about:- a collection of people with different specialisms that integrate seamlessly for a client. It can be difficult to reconcile some of these skillsets but these are our challenges. Data skills are clearly hugely important but if that's all it's about then perhaps it's time we started employing monkeys and bought some typewriters.