Uncovering media bias within agencies

For various reasons, agencies do display media preference. Clients should look further than price when deciding who to work with.

Most media agencies, faced with a pitch for a client demanding tailor-made solutions, would claim media neutrality.

But scratch below the surface and inevitably media agencies lean towards certain types of media.

The Evening Standard newspaper has compiled an index of media agencies which shows their affinity, through billings, towards types of media. It includes a breakdown on the use of press, including magazines, and other London-based media.

Zoe Bartlett, head of sales for the Evening Standard, says the tables – using AC Nielsen MMS data for October 1999 to September 2000 – were created to gain a better understanding of agencies and their business.

They enable the Evening Standard to compare the share of agency billings devoted to all brands in the newspaper and ES magazine against other newspapers and specialist magazines in London, TV, radio, outdoor and cinema.

It reveals that some agencies, such as New PHD and Manning Gottlieb Media, use London media significantly more than others.

Media spend in London has been growing at a faster rate than in the rest of the country, claims Bartlett, who believes this will continue. In previous recessionary periods, some advertisers focused spend on the capital because of its critical mass and strong economic base.

But Bartlett adds: “It’s difficult to reach London consumers, in terms of frequency of exposure, as there are so many very elusive people who work longer hours and are out later.”

For some agencies, radio is seen as a particularly strong medium in London mainly because of the strength of 95.8 Capital FM, perceived as a London station.

Bartlett puts the case for The Evening Standard: “If you are a TV-oriented agency it is difficult to cover London, whereas we have 346,000 Monday to Friday readers who don’t read any other newspaper.”

But Initiative managing director Roy Jeans is not concerned about how spend is split between different media: “I would be more interested in the media owners producing research into the effectiveness of newspapers themselves and the impact on sales. We know TV works because there are studies such as tvSPAN.”

Unsurprisingly, since their clients have the largest TV spend, the tables show that the top ten media agencies prefer TV.

The Evening Standard head of planning Neville Toptani says: “Although often client-driven, agencies do build upon areas where they feel most confident. It is no surprise that the biggest agencies have a bias towards TV because of their client base.”

Among the top ten agencies, Starcom Motive has the highest percentage of billings for TV, 73.9 per cent, well above the medium average of 48 per cent for all agencies covered. This is partly accounted for by the TV-buying business of its client Procter & Gamble.

Walker Media’s TV billings are 32.5 per cent, with press making up 56.3 per cent. This is partly accounted for by its client Dixons Store Group, which spends more than 80 per cent of its &£108m budget on press.

CDP Media is another agency with more press billings than TV because of its clients: tobacco giant Gallaher cannot advertise on TV and Estée Lauder chooses not to use the medium.

Another of CDP Media’s clients, Honda, is a large press spender with contracts to use a significant proportion of outside back covers of core newspaper weekend supplements.

CDP Media deputy managing director Peter Thomson says: “If you carry out a strategy single-mindedly, particularly if it’s medium-based, it can lead to a skew in a particular area.”

He believes that it is important for media agencies to work closely with creative agencies and to have an impact on use of media from the start.

Eric Salamon, general manager corporate marketing for European marketing at HJ Heinz, says: “Agencies will develop expertise in certain areas built around particular clients.”

“You should make sure the agency you will be working with has suitable expertise in every media area. Although you may be aligned to one particular medium, you don’t know what is going to happen in the future and what strategy will be adopted,” adds Salamon.

For companies unable to afford an internal media expert to monitor agency affinity with types of media, particular channels or titles, the answer could lie in media auditors, claims Bernard Balderston, Procter & Gamble’s associate media director for UK Media.

“One would hope that given the reliance of many clients on auditors, they would identify the idiosyncrasies of agencies to the client,” Balderston says.

Apart from a changing client base, other factors influence a media agency’s affinity with different media: relationship breakdowns with a media owner, such as the one experienced last year between Carat and Channel 5; TV inflation; creative agencies favouring TV ads; and changes in perception of a type of medium all play a part.

Salamon says: “With the rising cost of available TV air time, clients have to look more closely at other media. Radio spotted the opportunity and has done very well.”

Clients searching for the best deal should look further than just price when it comes to choosing the most suitable media agency.

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