There has been a lot of comment recently about the death of full-service agencies, the most appropriate architects of content and the pitfalls of media-driven communication plans. Few people left in the industry today worked in a full-service agency. I did. And, amazingly, I can still remember what happened.
The notion that we all sat around together respectfully challenging each other to generate the best idea, and the best media plan to deliver it, is way off the mark. Media people were generally not allowed near the creative floor and creative people mainly talked to media people when they wanted some free space for a charity ad they had created in the hope of an award.
Account management browbeat the media department into longer time lengths and bigger print ads, and tried to bury a radio recommendation. Things such as broadcast sponsorship were seen as an affront to the integrity of the big creative idea. And we really did get five minutes at the end of the pitch.
That isn’t, of course, to say the product of full-service agencies was without merit. It was certainly a glorious era for advertising. And media solutions could be inventive and capable of multiplying the effect of the creative idea. I personally worked on some brilliant campaigns: BMW, the Orange launch, Sega Mega Drive, Prudential. And I was jealous of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and its Boddingtons and Levi’s campaigns, and of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO with The Economist.
It wasn't full service per se that ensured the success of campaigns but the culture of the agencies
It wasn’t full service per se that ensured the success of those campaigns but the culture of the agencies – it was creative empathy that delivered the success. Stella Artois was a great success too but, here, the ads came from Lowe Howard-Spink and the media from Motive. Back then, the availability of media was more limited and its consumption more homogenous – we were certain of "visibility" (albeit with some wastage). What clever campaigns did was tighten up the choice of media to be even more focused to create a certain familiarity and a context that was relevant to the brand.
We still need the same mix of fame and familiarity as we did then, and the job is about choosing the right format and level of frequency. The risk in today’s increasingly complex landscape is that we try to operate too many formats with not enough frequency, and some of those formats are dictated by the media agency and some by the creative agency – double trouble.
The collective creative ambition we need to deliver for clients is not a building (unless media gets the penthouse this time) but a culture of collaboration. And we must be open to other partners joining the table, such as production companies and media owners.
Phil Georgiadis is the chairman at Walker Media