The Home Office’s decision to consolidate its entire media-planning operation into one agency (MW last week) is expected to herald a round of similar centralisations by Government departments.
Three agencies are pitching for the consolidated Home Office communications planning work. Manning Gottlieb OMD and Mediaedge/cia – which already handle the bulk of the department’s media planning – are fighting it out with Carat in a winner-takes-all battle. Meanwhile Naked, which has handled some of the briefs, has not been asked to pitch.
The winning agency will handle planning for the entire £20m Home Office advertising and marketing budget, and will advise on targeting audiences for a vast range of campaigns.
The Home Office uses advertising in the battle to curb many forms of anti-social behaviour from domestic violence to irresponsible drinking and drug-taking. Its campaigns cover everything from kerb-crawling to gun crime, identity and mobile phone theft, anti-radicalism, immigration control and internet safety.
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A Home Office spokesman explains the reasons behind the centralisation. "We want a single company that has expertise across policy areas, not just one area or another," he says.
Another source says that much Home Office behavioural-change advertising deals largely with one troublesome demographic – young men indulging in anti-social behaviour – so it makes sense to use one agency that can plan all the campaigns targeting that group.
"Most of the social problems are the domain of young blokes," says the source. "The drug abuse audience is not a million miles away from the one that commits petty crime. These are the people the Home Office is desperately trying to change the behaviour of."
A single media agency should be able to co-ordinate a more coherent policy on targeting these young men, but at the same time have an overview of the other demographic groups that need to be addressed.
Meanwhile, if the consolidation leads to more efficient targeting, other Government departments could look at doing the same. Peter Buchanan, deputy chief executive of the COI, which is running the Home Office media-planning pitch, says: "Other people will look at what the Home Office is doing with interest and if they think it is more efficient, you might see more of it."
The pitch has called into question once more the relationship between the Home Office and the COI. The pitching agencies are on the COI roster and meetings have been attended by COI head of media Jeremy Found. But the Home Office has dispensed with the services of the COI for much of its work with ad agencies and deals directly with them, as it has considerable in-house expertise in this field. In the relatively new area of communications planning, however, Government departments are thought to lack in-house knowledge so the COI still has a role to play.
If the Home Office centralisation proves successful and helps it sharpen the targeting of demographic groups, other ministries – which spend some £200m a year on media campaigns – will look at similar consolidations.
Media agencies stand to lose out or gain massively if the trend to centralising Government communications planning catches on.