Media Perspective: Media pawnbroker can do a brisk trade in these hard times

The old saying "only two things in life are certain: death and taxes" seems blatantly untrue. Another racing certainty, for example, is that pawnbrokers do well in a recession.

This was emphasised by the news of a pawnbroker opening within the confines of the City of London. The first to do so in more than 100 years, according to reports, and a sure sign that the City boys are losing not just their shirts, but their Rolexes and iPhones too.

Media auditors have long seemed to be the pawnbrokers of the media industry. Providing, they would argue, a necessary and useful service, but derided in some quarters as misguided parasites - being, at best, an inconvenience, but, at worst, destroying creativity and ideas in media in favour of a slavish reverence to efficiency.

An overly harsh assessment, perhaps, but auditors do, at least, like the pawnbroker, become extremely busy during a downturn. In that context, this week's launch of another new service from one of the major players in the sector, Ebiquity (the owner of the Billetts brand), seems to make eminent sense. But will the Billetts Haystack agency selection and relationship management service be of much use to anybody beyond its shareholders?

You could accuse Billetts of ambulance chasing, of merely seeking to capitalise on a situation where there are significant numbers of pitches being called as clients look to drive down costs and streamline agency relationships. Billetts already plays in this agency selection space (it is involved in the current Sony PlayStation and Nokia processes, for example), but the Haystack tie-up looks to take things to the next level.

Businesses such as Billetts and Accenture are desperately attempting to drive their media businesses upstream and this is the latest attempt. In theory at least, it will afford Billetts greater access to clients at the start of the relationship and then the campaign planning process rather than being brought in as an afterthought to measure a bit of TV activity.

It's an attractive business model because it gives the auditor access to an ongoing client relationship, but potentially offers a threat to media agencies because businesses such as Billetts are also trying to sell clients media planning consultancy. That said, more than one agency has indicated that involvement from companies such as Billetts is becoming more welcome than not, due to the lack of understanding of media in some client procurement departments.

In some cases, an ongoing relationship with an auditor or other intermediary is welcomed by agencies if it can in-crease this understanding on the client side. If played correctly as a service that encourages clients to take a more long-term view, even in the toughest of times, services such as Billetts Haystack could help those on all sides.


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