It's almost a year since Saatchi & Saatchi was beating its big ugly
chest over winning the the Cannes Media Lions. Despite my cynicism about
whether the winning entry - for the Multiple Sclerosis Society - was a
pure media idea, there's no doubt that it was the product of a
media-savvy team with the balls to drive the idea through with the media
owners. As such is was an increasingly rare example of media and
creative working harmoniously together.
Twelve months on and instead of champagne on Le Croisette, Saatchis'
media planners have a more grim prospect: looking for new jobs or being
shoe-horned into Zenith. Saatchis' decision to disband its planning
department may be as big a surprise as Labour leading the polls, but the
result is sad nevertheless.
Yes, Saatchis has looked more and more like a bloody-minded obstinate in
the face of the inevitable. But the agency's insistence on retaining a
media planning function was both brave and foolhardy. Brave because it
potentially offered a real point of difference in the marketplace, which
was worth exploring. Foolhardy because it was obvious to even the media
illiterate that the world order was going in the opposite direction. So
slowly, but predictably, Saatchis' grip on its media planning business
has slipped until the entire department became financially unviable.
It's no surprise that Zenith, Saatchis' media buying agency, has gnawed
away at the agency's planning business. And since Saatchis has showed
Zenith so few favours over the years, I should imagine that Zenith felt
some emotional (as well as the obvious financial) satisfaction in these
But what is interesting is that the demise of Saatchis' media planning
should come at a time when there is real debate about the value of full
service. Creative agencies without media expertise are increasingly
exposed as media becomes the starting point for any advertising
strategy. And more clients are complaining of being worn down by too
many agency suppliers offering conflicting advice and glamouring for
lead status. The combined planning and creative agency is one way of
helping address this problem.
Yet Saatchis failed to offer a viable alternative. I think this is less
to do with the calibre of its media people than the agency's inground
attitude to media generally. Its media planning department was never
trumpeted, its semi-full service offering never marketed. Meanwhile,
media agencies are investing more thought into their own marketing
efforts. Admittedly, these efforts are still rather shabby, but at least
you know they passionately believe in what they're selling. Saatchis was
never passionate about its media planning (outside of the department
itself) and a real opportunity to offer clients a different solution has
been thrown away.