Starcom sharpens its digital focus

Starcom claims it will be ramping up its focus on planning this year with the creation of a new strategic intelligence and planning team that, according to the agency, will put the digital consumer at the heart of everything it does.

Starcom hopes the arrival of Pru Parkinson as strategic planning director at the start of the year and the promotion of Steve Parker to managing director of Starcom Digital will send a message that it plans to win back its reputation as a planning-led agency.

Finding a new direction
Chief executive Linda Smith has made no secret of her belief that the agency has lost is way when it comes to planning. Industry sources say cracks started to appear following the departure of Mark Cranmer, the former chief executive of Europe, Middle East and Africa, last year shortly after planning stalwart Pete Edwards and business director Jez Groom left to launch start-up EdwardsGroomSaunders at the end of 2005. The subsequent promotion of former London chief Iain Jacob into Cranmer’s old role also distanced him from the day-to-day planning team.

But Smith has been quick to admit that planning is not her strength and that she needs to bring in planners such as Parkinson, a former chief executive of Universal McCann and founder of now defunct WPP planning unit Nylon to rejuvenate Starcom’s offer. After just 14 days in the role, Parkinson will only say that she is keen to “reduce the gulf” between creativity and analytics and that integrating that into the agency is key to her plans.

She will be working closely with Parker, who officially takes over his new role in mid-February. Parker says that the “vision of putting digital at the heart of its offer” will mean developing its response analysis, data planning and management and digital teams.

He believes the agency is already “best in class” in some areas but that analytics “needs beefing up”. He says that it is looking at the structure of its data planning team but he will not be drawn on how much money is being spent or how many new people will be bought in. Parkinson says the strategic intelligence unit has “half a dozen or more” people at present.

The digital bandwagon
One senior media industry insider says: “Every agency is claiming to put digital at its heart but digital is mainstream now. Some agencies are just good at talking the talk.” Another source adds that there is “a lot of noise about digital” and says: “The reality of the problem is how do we reach consumers more effectively now than ten years ago in the light of fragmentation? To me, defining the channel seems the wrong way round but it is very fashionable.” Both Parker and Parkinson are quick to dismiss suggestions that its move to put digital at the centre of its offer is jumping on the bandwagon. “The trouble with digital is no one knows what to call it,” says Parkinson. “A number of our clients are a bit confused by it and some agencies have been guilty of making it into a black art.” While industry sources do not believe Starcom – or any network agency – can excel at planning, both Parker, who believes that the team and positioning will be in place in the next nine to 12 months, and Parkinson are confident. Parkinson says: “It doesn’t feel like there is a mountain to climb. There is a planning capability but the representation hasn’t been there.”

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