CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/MEDIA OWNER CREATIVES - Are broadcasters' TV ads a threat to agencies? Media owners are building in-house creative expertise, Francesca Newland writes

Most agencies with a newspaper on their client list will testify

that media owners tend to think they can create ads as well as, if not

better than, their good selves.



So the fact that Channel 4 has launched 4creative as a commercial

proposition, and last week's news that the BBC is bolstering its

Creative Services division with former ad agency staffers, should not

come as too big a shock.



TV stations have a long history of creative output that goes beyond

programme production. The new satellite channels emerging in the UK a

decade or so ago often found that their advertisers were small enough to

need help actually making commercials to air on the new channels; the

broadcasters were keen to lend their expertise in return for advertising

support.



The BBC has developed short film promotions for its own programmes that

are far more strategically and creatively savvy than simple clips.



At Channel 4 the evolution of 4creative is very much down to Polly

Cochrane, the channel's marketing director, and her partnership with

David Brook, the station's director of strategy and development.

Cochrane comes from an agency background. She was a graduate trainee at

WCRS and one of the original line-up at the Saatchi & Saatchi breakaway

Cowan Kemsley Taylor.



"Starting up 4creative gave me a real sense of deja vu," she says,

referring to her days at CKT. She moved to the client side at Vanity

Fair before leaving for The Guardian, where she met Brook. She moved

with him to Channel 5, then on to Channel 4.



One of Cochrane's first tasks on her arrival was to co-ordinate Channel

4's on-air and off-air promotions. She also needed to hire a creative

director and turned to Dave Buonaguidi, who formerly filled the post at

St Luke's.



"It struck me that on-air promotions were undervalued," she says. "They

were treated a bit like house ads in publishing; shunted around like the

least important thing. We wanted to turn the perception of on-air

promotions to ads for our programmes and our brand."



Cochrane says that once the department developed a creative advertising

environment, it became inundated with requests from other Channel 4

divisions to produce posters and title sequences. The department was

also asked to pitch for, or simply create, sponsorship idents such as

the BeMe.com spots that Buonaguidi produced to surround the Ally McBeal

series. Such ident work has since included Southern Comfort's Big

Brother sponsorship and Bailey's Sex And The City spots.



With demand growing, the decision was made to staff up the division and

launch it as a special unit which, Cochrane says, "it would be crazy not

to allow external clients to tap into".



George Michaelides, the founder of Michaelides & Bednash, which has

worked closely with Channel 4 for four years, says today's on-air

promotions are of a very high standard."They all have ideas behind them,

they're not just showing a clip." He cites the BBC's promotion of

EastEnders which used the line "everybody's talking about it" and

featured ordinary people gossiping about the soap's plot, as well as

Channel 4's promotions of Brookside. "They're very good at doing TV and

very good at understanding media brands, which are very different to

FMCG products or cars," Michaelides says.



He believes marketing media brands is in many ways more difficult than

marketing FMCG brands, as it is hard to distil them down to a simple

idea such as an ability to "wash whiter than white".



So is there any evidence of TV stations actually winning business from

ad agencies? Yes and no. 4creative beat Bates to the account for

Attheraces, a consortium consisting of Channel 4, BSkyB and Arena

Leisure, and will be launching work for the brand in November. But given

horse-racing's long association with Channel 4, and the fact that the

channel's digital service will offer viewers a betting facility, the win

is very much in 4creative's area of expertise.



Cochrane says she does not see 4creative competing too directly with

FMCG-focused ad agencies: "The kind of products we are suited for are

TV-related. Anything where the expected end result will be a moving

image. We will appeal to clients who want a content-led solution to the

brief, rather than an advertising-led solution to a brief."



The BBC, unwilling to contribute to this article, is moving closer to

competing with agencies. Its roster, which includes Abbott Mead Vickers

BBDO, Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters and Fallon, is now only called in to

do the jobs that Creative Services feels unable to handle. Creative for

5 Live, for instance, was produced by Fallon, then taken in-house in

2000.



More importantly, BBCMediaArc, part of BBC Resources, has formed an

alliance with BMP DDB's interactive division, BMPtvi, to pitch for

advertising contracts.



Sources close to the BBC are unflattering in their descriptions of BBC

Creative Services. They agree that staff in the department view

themselves as competing with agencies. However, one says: "It's about

getting the right range of skills. It involves planning and account

management, not just a basic creative idea based on content. Who, for

those skills, would choose Creative Services rather than a top ad

agency?"



His words are echoed by Martin Jones, owner of the AAR. He thinks that,

given the right people, TV stations are capable of making good ads, but

says the best people, wouldn't want to leave the industry. "It depends

on who they employ. Most people who work in advertising agencies like

that environment."



It is not the first time in advertising history that a client has felt

able to cut out the middle man. Lever set up Lever International

Advertising Services - or Lintas - in 1928 to handle its advertising and

win contracts from other companies. Then there's Kevin Morley Marketing.

The agency was set up by the marketing director of Rover in 1992 and

sold to Ammirati Puris Lintas three years later, complete with the Rover

account.



However, "clients" are now competing with agencies over a substantially

shifting communications landscape. Agencies are accustomed to producing

ads and many have shown a hurried commitment to the interactive world,

but Michaelides thinks that new channels of communication are now

essential and that broadcasters are in a good position to forge

some.



He cites the recent BMW films downloadable from the internet as an

example of how narrative-based promotions, which broadcasters can do

very well, talk to consumers. "Agencies have to get used to seeing

outside of the boxes. People are tired of being shouted at so we need

other ways of engaging and involving them," he explains.



The most likely scenario, according to Michaelides, is that agencies

will work alongside the broadcasters. Cochrane agrees: "People are

increasingly looking for new ways to engage the audience. This can

involve becoming a content-provider rather than an advertiser. But

advertising still very much has its place."



Cochrane is still working on the raison d'etre of 4creative. She says

it's not quite ready to sign up at the AAR because "we are still

open-minded about where our business will come from. We haven't been

touting around town yet because we're using internal business to create

our reputation."



And it's the Channel 4 brand's reputation that will give 4creative an

edge. Its strength and youth appeal will give the division a unique

advantage when it starts going head-to-head for business with agencies.



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