Putting creativity in touch with media

As the gap between creative and media agencies widens, many believe a move back to an integrated structure is the solution.

The gap between creative and media agencies grows ever wider, creating a generation of specialists unaware of the broader marketing mix.

Caught in the middle is the time-pressured and short-staffed client. With the demise of the full-service agency, clients have been forced to invest more time and money co-ordinating agencies in an attempt to achieve integrated campaigns.

There is growing concern that the structure of agencies has led to a lack of media knowledge among all parties, especially among the younger elements of the industry.

As a consequence, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising is changing its training modules so that young recruits to creative and media agencies are given an insight into their respective disciplines.

Even some media owners have recognised the gap. Granada Enterprises chief executive Mick Desmond and Carlton Media chief executive Martin Bowley have embarked on a tour of the top 30 UK creative agencies to tell them about the developments and opportunities available in television (MW March 29).

On the client side, Allied Domecq’s former vice-president of integrated brand communications Patrick Burton, has set up his own consultancy Emc2 Management, to offer marketers practical advice and training on managing the media process.

But some media experts, such as MediaVest chief executive Jim Marshall, maintain that a knowledge gap between creative and media specialists existed even within the structure of the “old” full-service agency, where “media was often at the end of the food chain”. He says that it is up to clients to get actively involved in ensuring that all of its agencies are working together and that time is given to developing integrated advertising solutions.

CIA UK vice-chairman David Fletcher, while agreeing that time is necessary to develop the perfect fit between the creative and media, says it is the responsibility of the agencies concerned to work with one another to come up with solutions. He makes the point that media agencies have moved on in their strategic thinking – away from solely using mass-market TV spots, but says: “To be able to have a dialogue, the creative teams have to have seen the latest media ideas.”

Gillette European media director Michael Winkler agrees: “Sometimes creative agencies don’t know what is happening in media and what could be done. As a client you have to encourage your agency to think beyond a TV ad.”

J Walter Thompson director of strategy and development Marco Rimini says: “The creative side needs to be aware of the developments in the new media world.”

Rimini is among a number of industry experts who say a move back to the “old” full-service agency is not the solution. Instead, he suggests that strategic media functions could be reintegrated into creative agencies, leaving media agencies to concentrate on implementational planning and buying.

Some media insiders question the wisdom of such an approach, arguing that media strategists could be compromised by their association with creative agencies because it would make them unable to offer media neutral solutions.

Former Rocket managing director John Harlow recognised the need for clients to have independent, strategic media input at the start of the creative process. With this in mind he helped to set up Naked, a consultancy which works alongside creative and media agencies.

He says: “Media thinking needs to start where brands’ creative work is being developed. How else are brands to mirror new media channels that are opening?”

With the full-service agency virtually dead and buried and the birth of a multitude of new types of agencies, clients are having to manage a growing number of relationships.

Chairman of the Billett Consultancy John Billett, talking at a Chartered Institute of Marketing seminar last week, said: “Traditionally, advertisers relied on account handlers to co-ordinate activities within the full-service agency. Now the advertiser fulfils the ‘old’ account handlers role but with an increasing number of suppliers. The client shouldn’t be doing this. It would be more effectively outsourced.”

He suggests that an integrated service agency – “one doctor, one diagnosis, one solution, and one remedy business” – could be a way round the problem and suggests that WPP and the Tempus Group with its purchase of the Added Value Company may be able to deliver the model.

To foster a collaborative approach among agencies and to ensure a media neutral solution, Billett also suggests that agencies could be remunerated on the basis of sales.

The agency structure at present places the young and inexperienced client under considerable pressure.

Burton says: “The unbundling of agencies means there is no longer a traditional agency account person to guide the new or inexperienced marketing manager in all aspects of the advertising.”

He is “surprised” that no one has yet set up what he calls an account-handling agency.

While everyone is agreed that there is a growing gap between media and creative agencies it will take some time for a solution, that is acceptable to all, including most importantly the client.

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