Media Perspective: Time to give media the recognition its agencies deserve

I was struck at the weekend, while listening to a compilation of famous TV tunes in my brother-in-law's car, by the lyrics to The Unknown Stuntman.

They were belted out by Lee Majors, the star of The Fall Guy. Summing up his happy-go-lucky approach, Majors croons: "I never spent much time in school, but I taught ladies plenty."

A good philosophy if you can get away with it, I thought. And as the song segues into an appraisal of his career, it's clear that, despite his informal training, the stuntman has achieved great success in his field: making Clint Eastwood "look so fine" and Robert Redford "such a star".

But something is nagging the stuntman - he's not famous, unlike the glamorous stars he shadows; he receives no recognition from those he works for; he's clearly seen by some as a bit of a joke. In short, he displays the sort of inferiority complex that some media agencies feel right now.

However, most are convinced that they have to do something about it.

They know that media agencies were once populated by wayward, occasionally brilliant people but should now gain recognition for evolving into professional businesses on a par with City lawyers, accountants and merchant bankers.

I have a problem with this scenario. Not that I think media agencies are less professional than any of those other suppliers, but because they seem to be inherently different, creatively led companies. For this reason, I liked what Jed Glanvill, the soon-to-be chief executive of MindShare, said last week about combining creative thought with the "need to be a professional media agency in the way we treat people and deliver for clients".

This could be a long process for some agencies, given the debate about transparency on remuneration methods. My sympathy is with the agencies.

As Oliver Cleaver, Kimberly-Clark's European media director, said: "The fundamental point here is that we don't pay media agencies enough and sometimes, in fact, they are not being paid at all."

Cleaver has advocated a move to paying agencies "in the way that financial consultants are paid - not like plumbers". He's right - there should be fair, fee-based remuneration for agencies, which would lead to greater transparency for clients. But let's not ask agencies to behave like the City (especially in light of this week's accusations against Refco).

However, one of my correspondents puts it this way: "Agencies are paid like financial advisers, who receive all sorts of strange commissions. At least the plumber is paid a straight sum for doing the job."

That may not be glamorous, but a fair day's pay for a fair day's work is all that most agencies are after. Recognition and parity with other professions would surely follow.

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