Forum: Could CIA’s TV buying arm undermine planning?

The Negotiation Centre may help to dig the CIA Group out of a rather unpleasant hole, but does a specialist buying unit make any sense in a market where everyone recognises the need to develop integrated communications packages? And does it leave strategic planning out in the cold? Alasdair Reid investigates.

The Negotiation Centre may help to dig the CIA Group out of a

rather unpleasant hole, but does a specialist buying unit make any sense

in a market where everyone recognises the need to develop integrated

communications packages? And does it leave strategic planning out in the

cold? Alasdair Reid investigates.



The Negotiation Centre, to borrow a phrase from the Ronseal ad, does

exactly what it says on the tin. ’Negotiations ’R’ Us,’ as Tony Kenyon

might be temped to say. Its senior staff, headed by Kenyon, will sit on

one side of the table and a succession of TV sales bosses will be

invited to occupy the slightly lower chairs opposite. Out on the trading

floor, the troops will regularly acquaint themselves with negotiation’s

poor relation - haggling.



Launched last week, the Negotiation Centre will handle TV negotiation

for the whole CIA Group: CIA Medianetwork, 20/20 Media, Media Solutions

London, CIA Media Solutions Manchester, IDK Media and Morgan CIA. It is

the UK’s first specialist TV buying company. And, with billings of

pounds 300 million and a market share of 10.5 per cent, it will be the

UK’s second-biggest buyer in the TV market, behind Zenith Media with a

market share of around 13 per cent (Campaign, 7 February).



The launch of the new unit owes more than a little to CIA’s TV trading

problems last year and its protracted dispute with Laser Sales. At the

root of that problem was the fact that CIA Medianetwork had failed to

replace Josh Dovey, its one-time broadcast director, with a similarly

big hitter. It was galling to learn that the best operator in the market

- Kenyon - was plying his trade in another part of the group.



But CIA sources deny this solution is a compromise, and an unwieldy

compromise at that. This initiative was always on the cards, sooner or

later, they say. Maybe so - but why? Isn’t it a throwback, reminiscent

of the old days when media was the happy home of horse thieves with

calculators?



The market these days is meant to be more sensitive to planning issues -

but whichever way you look at it, the Negotiation Centre only adds

another layer between ’upstream’ planning at the creative agency and the

buyers at the coal face. What’s more, Kenyon isn’t exactly the greatest

fan of planning - he said recently that the market has become

overcomplicated, cluttered with too much unnecessary research.



Is the new operation a backward step? Predictably, Tony Kenyon says that

it is not. ’It is not part of the rationale to divorce what we are doing

from strategic planning, we are merely concentrating our abilities in a

certain well-defined area. Implementation is of key importance in the

television market and the business continues to move in that direction

Those who believe in linking strategic planning directly with buying are

talking absolute nonsense. They may say that it’s what they do these

days but they’ve got it wrong in that it’s not actually what they do,’

he says.



Kenyon argues that the nonsense which people spout about planning has

little to do with the reality of trading and everything to do with media

specialists trying to find unique selling propositions. He adds: ’The

scenario in the near future will involve 70 or 80 channels. If people

think that strategic planners can make meaningful decisions about what’s

happening on those channels, they are deluding themselves. It is up to

buyers to go between channels to meet planning objectives.’



But does the structure really make sense? Is it a specialism gone too

far? Everyone else in the market is talking about ensuring that

strategic planning feeds through directly to the buying side. They argue

that, as the TV market fragments and buying leverage becomes less

important, planning will be the single most important factor in getting

good communications value. Are they wrong?



’I’d hate to be seen criticising potential competitors, but I’d have to

say I’d feel pretty uncomfortable about too great a degree of separation

between strategy and buying,’ Jim Marshall, the managing director of the

Media Centre, admits. ’We consider ourselves fortunate because when we

were launching the Media Centre it was becoming apparent that the lines

between strategic planning, implementational planning and buying were

becoming incredibly blurred. When it comes down to the detail of what

channel or even what spot, is that a planning or a buying decision? From

my point of view, it is very dangerous to separate them.’



George Michaelides, a partner in the strategic media planning

consultancy, Michaelides and Bednash, disagrees. ’This is a very

interesting move and, from our point of view, it makes a great deal of

sense - it recognises the reality that planning and buying are totally

different functions.



The great thing about this is that it gives clients choice. I’m sure

that the Negotiation Centre will be tremendous at what it does. But

clients will now realise that they can put their television buying into

this operation without having to put their planning into other parts of

the CIA Group.



I’m not sure that CIA has thought that through yet - and it has massive

implications,’ he says.



In fact, Michaelides argues that this could be good for the planning

discipline per se. He adds: ’At the moment, at the big media

specialists, the reality is that buyers still do all the deals and

everyone else falls into line behind them. Planners in buying companies

don’t get very far.



They have no power. Planning will flourish outside that

environment.’



But what do media owners - especially the smaller sales operations whose

proposition is diametrically opposed to the ratings-driven sell of ITV -

think? Richard Burdett, the vice-president of sales and marketing at

Flextech Television, approves. ’Buying and selling are at the heart of

the business. Increasing your strength through consolidation is a fact

of life on both sides of the market,’ he points out.



’I don’t see this as running in any way counter to the growing

recognition that buying cannot exist in isolation from the creative

process. Buyers are increasingly willing to think beyond spot

advertising and they are a growing source of the more creative

initiatives around. The biggest problem we face is that it can be very

difficult to identify who can influence decisions. As such it is

imperative that we carry on talking to all parties - clients, account

handlers, creatives, sponsorship specialists, planners and buyers.’



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