MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Saatchi's planning experiment failed, but it's a good idea

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

triumphs.



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.



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