Creating the right size to fit the billing

We were fascinated by Paul McCann’s report “When billings size isn’t everything” (MW last week). The big media buying shops are “repositioning” themselves as a vanguard because the media market is moving away from bulk buying, and that other services, such as “creative planning”, are becoming increasingly important to clients.

This has already happened. There are a breed of media independents, which have started in the past five years, successfully operating like this. They develop lateral solutions born out of the marketing strategies of their clients, rather than buying-led media strategies dictated by “bulk” deals.

Such independents work closely with creative agencies that don’t have an in-house media resource and understand the advertising process rather than regarding media as an end in itself. We would suggest that new independents are dictating the market and that buying shops set up in the mid-Eighties are trying to reposition themselves to follow suit.

If the largest media buying shop in the UK has finally discovered that there is no competitive advantage in scale, and that effective media buying is not a question of brawn, it suggests media could be handled very differently in the future.

For example, many of the benefits of media centralisation may be questioned. It was a sensible solution to a high inflation, monopolistic ITV in the late Eighties, but the late Nineties will be very different, with fragmenting audiences and media opportunities. It may, therefore, prove to be inappropriate for clients to lump all their media spend together just to maximise bottom line discount. We may move towards a situation where media agencies with different approaches handle the various elements of a client’s media portfolio.

You can’t reposition a company unless you fundamentally change its working practices and management structure. We suspect that the lager media companies will have problems changing their focus and that any repositioning will essentially be a cosmetic move to try and take advantage of a market opportunity.

They will probably remain “Gorillas with calculators” competing against “Guerrillas with computers” – a breed of independents with radically different methods born out of a lateral approach to communication planning.

Steve Booth and Nick Lockett

Booth Lockett Makin

London W1

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