Michele Martin considers the trend for relaunching media as a new
Last week, McCann-Erickson rebranded its media operation and Lowe
Howard-Spink confirmed it is considering acquiring extra media volume.
As McCanns broadened its media net by relaunching its media department
as a separate company under the Universal McCann banner, Lowes admitted
it was also looking to increase its buying power, possibly through the
‘acquisition of a media independent’.
Unbundling media is not exactly new. The great surprise was Lowes.
Coming from a shop described by Campaign as ‘the ultimate full-service
agency’, it raised wider questions.
Following on from agencies such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty, GGT, BMP DDB
Needham and Collett Dickenson Pearce, which have all addressed the same
issue in recent years, Lowes’ decision prompted the question of whether
a creative shop can unbundle its media and still keep the full-service
culture on which its reputation is based.
In an ideal world, most top executives will tell you that the full-
service model is best. But the need to generate discounts through bulk
buying has forced a change of heart because, as Simon Sherwood, managing
director of BBH, puts it: ‘When you are our size, you have to modify
your belief in recognition of the marketplace.’
Yet recent media tales about medium-sized creative shops have proved
that it is possible to seek media clout without losing finesse. Central
to this has been agencies’ willingness to find solutions that fit
individual needs and cultures. CDP and GGT have set up joint ventures
with CIA in the shape of CDP Media and Media Solutions; Publicis and FCB
have formed a standalone dependant, Optimedia; while BMP remains unique
by keeping its media department - the UK’s third largest buying point -
Lowes looks likely to keep its current internal media arrangements,
while using an external venture to give additional TV buying leverage.
It may be this flexibility of approach - rather than pragmatism after
the fact - that has led creatives and account men to sound relatively
chirpy about compromising their agency’s full-service credentials. Jay
Pond-Jones, joint creative director of GGT, says: ‘As far as I’m
concerned, media is in-house and, in the past, when I’ve worked with
media independents, it’s like they were our media partners.’
Dennis Lewis, joint creative director of BBH, adds: ‘The creative
contact with media here is exactly the same as it was before.’
But some agencies still worry about the effect of hiving off media.
Andrew Cracknell, deputy chairman of Ammirati and Puris/Lintas, is
fighting to stop the agency’s international management from stripping
strategic media from individual agencies (Campaign, 17 November).
Agency worries are threefold. First, a powerful media company that acts
as a separate profit centre and is given more clout by media-only
clients could have too much sway over creative issues.
Second, a department that has been physically separated from the rest of
an agency can disrupt the ‘chat across the photocopier’ environment of a
The final concern is that a separate media entity could draw off profits
and cause friction, especially when the two companies are on different
contracts for the same business.
Nevertheless, many agencies claim to have found solutions. Nick
Horswell, a partner at the media independent, Pattison Horswell Durden,
observes that it always takes time for a dependant to fight a dominant
culture. He says: ‘There have been instances where the creative
department has wanted to go down a route I’ve found very difficult to
justify in cost terms, but where I’ve been put under pressure to comply.
In some of the new dependants, I’ve no reason to think that will
When it comes to protecting ‘photocopier culture’, many agencies have
got round the problem by siting their dependants near to their main
offices, as in the case of GGT, CDP and Publicis. Where close proximity
is not possible, account teams are structured to compensate for this.
Lewis says: ‘We may only be going 400 yards down the road, but that
distance becomes a barrier, so we’ll have a media person on each brand
By comparison, concerns about profitability are relatively
insignificant. Although, in theory, media independents could end up
scrapping with agencies for remuneration, most deals are amicable.
Agencies continue to negotiate fees or commission structures in the
usual way, while media companies pick up the 2 to 3 per cent that any
If anyone at Lowes is beginning to get cold feet, the best advice they
can glean from shops that have already taken the plunge seems to be:
‘Take no notice.’
Sherwood points out: ‘Motive [BBH’s media dependant] faces two ways.
Inwardly, it’s just like our media department, outwardly, it’s
However, he believes strong management control by the main agency, a
media client-list dominated by full-service accounts and personnel who
are grounded in the agency culture can ensure the media culture does not
clash with the main strategy.
Add to this the geographical proximity of a shop to its media dependant,
and Lowes may have less to worry about than the dissenters would have