CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/COI PITCHES - Francesca Newland writes on COI grouping its media and creative into one pitch

Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners is a successful creative agency with a winning cultural formula ... and so is Naked Communications, the media strategy agency. But the agencies' two approaches to business are so different that you'd never expect to see them pitch together, until now.

COI Communications appointed a media planning roster earlier this year.

Since then, whenever a piece of government business comes up for pitch, it pairs members of its creative roster with members of its media roster.

But, from a shortlist on which you would more normally expect to see Naked working with Mother, you actually see Mother with Optimedia and Naked with DLKW.

The theory does jar in the first instance, but a little thought reveals a degree of logic. The shortlists show the COI taking strong steps toward delivering what so many clients say they want to deliver, but never do: having a media strategy in place ready for the birth of a creative idea.

John Harlow, the managing partner at Naked, says: "I like the way COI has taken an industry lead on media and creative joining forces. Lots of people talk about it but few actually do it."

Mark Lund, the chief executive of DLKW, testifies that it leads to truly through-the-line solutions. He adds: "Naked is a creatively attuned agency. We modified the way we did our work to fit with them."

Carol Fisher, the outgoing chief executive of COI, explains that the system was put in place because creative agencies no longer have in-house media strategy. This meant that, until she introduced the new pitching system, she felt the creative department had too much influence over the media strategy.

There's no doubt that another attraction for COI is that the new system is time efficient: COI's clients sit through four pitches rather than a potential eight.

One aspect of the new system that both media and creative agencies like, in particular, is that it introduces them to new agencies and, if things go well, new business opportunities. One new-business director says: "It's a new partner to reach other clients, that's the upside."

Nevertheless, the system has critics. Media agencies feel that no matter how good their presentation, ultimately a win rests with the creative agency's performance.

Lund agrees: "It's not quite a dog and tail, but it is weighted toward us, but 'twas ever thus. Historically the allocation of funds in media/ creative is 70 per cent creative. It's hard to lead with a media idea."

Fisher is outraged that any media agencies should feel any dissatisfaction with the system. "Everyone was aware of the deal when they signed up, is her unarguable line of defence. She also says that where possible COI will attempt to match agencies with agencies of their choice, but understandably says this can't happen too often, as most would opt for the same few agencies.

Most agree that it is an imperfect system. Even Fisher admits that it's a case of taking some "relative rough with a lot of smooth. Media agencies do have a cause for complaint, but all see the logic behind the system and are overjoyed to be on the planning roster for COI's £135 million account.

One thing COI might do to satisfy all parties would be to occasionally pair the best creative idea with the best media ideas, irrespective of whether the two agencies pitched together. Such a move would prove that the best media strategy can triumph however weak the creative idea of its pitching partner.

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