Media agencies are facing growing questions about whether they have clients’ best interests at heart when it comes to planning and buying.
The suspicion is that shops’ volume and share deals with media owners – effectively agencies prebuying space in bulk at a cheaper rate – influence a client’s media plan.
Then the media agency just gives the creative shop a "procession of buckets to fill", as Justin Tindall, chief creative officer at M&C Saatchi, put it at the Media360 conference last month.
Jonathan Fowles, chief media officer at MullenLowe Mediahub, which spun out of creative shop MullenLowe London, voiced similar concerns when he spoke to Campaign earlier this year. "If you are working with a media agency that is part of a big holding group, then there are commitments to use certain media owners or having to sell a certain amount of econometric modelling," he said. "The agencies will deny that’s happening – but it’s quite liberating not to be part of that."
If brands consider splitting planning and buying, it will reverse one of the big consolidation trends of the last decade
In theory, splitting planning and buying will mean planners are more likely to be channel-neutral.
However, there are benefits in keeping the two together – not least in keeping a lid on agency fees and improving integration for the client.
Josh Krichefski, UK chief executive of MediaCom, pointed out at a debate at Media360 that his agency’s clients are "very intelligent" and would spot any problems around media neutrality.
Speaking on the same panel, Marc Zander, global media director at Mars Chocolate, said thinking globally about planning and locally about buying on a market-by-market basis helps media neutrality. Mars Chocolate appoints its planning and buying agencies separately, with MediaCom handling
global planning and Zenith looking after buying in the UK.
Others are less trusting of big media agencies –at least, that was the message from ISBA and its US counterpart, the Association of National Advertisers, which has been investigating rebates and other transparency problems.
If brands consider splitting planning and buying, it will reverse one of the big consolidation trends of the last decade. As Tom Denford, chief strategy officer at ID Comms, says: "Splitting planning and buying into different agencies can create more problems, with agencies competing and not collaborating – and the client often stuck in the middle, acting as referee."