“Do NOT go in the bathroom. There is a TIGER in the bathroom! There’s a jungle cat in the bathroom! Be careful! It’s big. It’s g-g-gigantic. How does a tiger get in the bathroom? It almost killed me.”
– Alan played by Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover

In the movie The Hangover, the bachelor party crew wakes up in the morning having completely forgotten the events from the night before. The first thing they encounter is a dangerous beast lurking where they least expect it. And the groom is missing. They spend the rest of the day frantically piecing together the prior events to meet an important deadline—getting the groom to the wedding on time.

Digital media agencies face a similar Hangover challenge every day.

As Fairfax Cone famously quipped, “the inventory goes down the elevator every night.” He was observing that the most valuable assets of the agency are in the heads of the employees: client strategies, plans, vendor relationships, special deals, failures, and successes.

All too frequently, that “inventory” never returns back up the elevator the next day. Turnover among agency staffers, media planners in particular, is notoriously high. Some reports are as high as 30% employee turnover per year. Being a digital media planner is a total burnout job where you’re up or out within three years: either way, nobody lasts very long.

When a media agency loses a planner, most of the knowledge that planner acquired over three years goes down the elevator with them. Although much of their work was done on a computer, the information is incarcerated in Microsoft Excel files scattered throughout the agency’s hard drives like Easter eggs. Even if you find the spreadsheet, you can never be sure it’s the latest and final plan. And a lot of valuable agency information is never stored on any computer; it’s in the head of the planner that just left.

When the replacement media planner steps in to fill the void, their first few weeks are like playing a role in the scenes of The Hangover: avoiding dangerous beasts popping out of nowhere, trying to piece together everything that’s happened in the past, and trying to meet important deadlines against all odds. Even with a solid and diligent effort, most of those valuable information assets are lost forever down the elevator shaft.

It doesn’t have to be a Hangover.

Smart media agencies are ditching manual, Excel-based processes in favor of purpose-built workflow systems that double as an “agency information repository” or “AIR.” Any time any planner adds or changes a line or a cell in a media plan, it gets instantly saved in the agency’s AIR.  Every RFP sent and proposal received is automatically saved in the AIR. Every negotiated price and special deal is saved in the AIR. Every preferred vendor and primary contact change is saved in the AIR. Every insertion order placed and its results are saved in the AIR. You get the picture: instead of mental notes and random excel files on hard drives, all this valuable data is being securely in an easily accessible format.

Agencies with an AIR have a competitive advantage. Employees work more efficiently because they don’t waste time chasing down information. With all this information at their fingertips, they make better decisions and get better advertising results. It’s easier to hire new talent and bring them up-to-speed. And, because it’s eliminating drudgery, employees will be happier and stay in the job longer.

Agencies with an AIR are more valuable. Instead of renting knowledge, they own it. Instead of payroll as pure expense, it’s an equity investment in an information asset. With an AIR in place, the value of the agency increases every day. The agency’s “inventory” stays in the building when the employees go down the elevator at night.

You may be thinking at this point: “That’s obvious. Why wouldn’t an agency have an AIR? They must all have one by now.” Unfortunately, that’s most often not the case. According to the Digiday State of the Industry research (see slide 50) in February 2013, 76.1% of agencies still use manual processes and Excel to make their media plans. Purpose-built workflow systems have not yet been widely adopted. And many existing workflow systems don’t fully deliver an AIR.

Agencies: it’s time to cure your Hangover with some AIR. Without it, you may wake up one day to find a tiger in your bathroom.

This article originally appeared in The Makegood.