ORLANDO—Video game giant Electronic Arts didn’t decide overnight to buy media in-house across more than 40 countries. Building an in-house capability can start with baby steps, dipping your toe into the waters and, along the way, nurturing your talent so as to avoid “tissue rejection,” says EA Global Head of Media Belinda Smith.
After buying media in-house in one capacity or other for about six years, “We were pretty surefooted that we knew how to do it and we knew how this was going to play out,” Smith explains in this Beet.TV interview at the recent Association of National Advertisers’ In-House Agency Conference. “And we said, like, ‘Hey let’s triple down on this and let’s really build out a global presence in media buying and planning.’”
Along the way came the realization that EA had ended up “competing with Google and Facebook for talent” and that media buying and planning is “still really regionalized,” not just in the United States but also abroad. “And that influenced which hubs we were going to hire out of,” Smith says.
A key hiring question was how to bring “a new organ into the body” without experiencing “tissue rejection.” In other words, “How do we onboard all of these people to what makes EA special and give them a really good experience, and make sure that we’re growing people within our company as opposed to just hiring random onesies, twosies.”
Hence the small steps a company can take as opposed to trying to assemble a team ASAP. “Don’t be afraid to baby step it,” Smith says. “I would say plan as much as you can and know that while you’re planning, those plans are going to change constantly.”
She advises not to get caught up “on having enough people in seats and having this one perfect discipline, but really think about it from how is this going to transform my business, who do I need to bring along for that journey and what are the steps I can take to get there. Because you don’t have to do it overnight.”
Asked to comment on the traditional status of agency of record, Smith, whose background includes AT&T, PubMatic, the Internet Advertising Bureau and 360i, suggests it comes with limitations.
“We buy media across more than 40 countries, and I can’t think of an agency of record situation that would allow us to be as nimble, as fluid, as reactive and as experimental as we would want to be. I think there are definitely certain businesses that it makes sense for, but for me, personally, I don’t think I really resonate with agency of record.”