MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE - WPP's Boots coup doesn't bode well for media's future

'What the bloody hell does a bloke who buys paperclips know about media,' one of the agencies that lost out to BMP (now OMD) in the 1993 Boots media centralisation moaned.

'What the bloody hell does a bloke who buys paperclips know about media,' one of the agencies that lost out to BMP (now OMD) in the 1993 Boots media centralisation moaned.

The whole pitch had been run by the Boots procurement department and price, not quality, was the prime motivator, the unlucky contenders grumbled.

Sod creative thinking. Sod strategic vision. 'How much?' was key. Not that creative thinking or strategic vision were really options back then. In fact, in those blissfully simple days before the word strategic was invented, buying muscle and commission levels were what most agencies sold themselves on anyway.

Despite the fact that the media world has moved on to a more sophisticated plane since then, last week it seemed as though the procurement department had struck again. Boots unceremoniously yanked its media account from OMD's breast and thrust it without warning into MindShare.

This was not a case, though, of OMD versus MindShare. Indeed, there is no suggestion that OMD has done anything other than a very fine job for Boots. This was clearly a WPP appointment, embracing MindShare but also pooling all creative into J. Walter Thompson and handing PR, market research and brand consultancy into the WPP family.

Clearly, for all the talk about media taking control of the client's communications process, nothing is more powerful to a beleaguered client than a global one-stop shop that can claim a range of proficient services.

WPP's various communications divisions are not necessarily the best option in every market. Just good enough in enough disciplines in enough markets.

Of course, as well as a coherent strategy, Boots is looking for more cost savings from the WPP deal and you begin to wonder where this will all end. Back in 1993, the procurement departments behind those early media centralisations had agencies cutting each other's and their own throats to win business. Now, as media's focus has moved away from simple buying muscle to strategic thinking, almost every media agency discipline has its own brand name and, often, an attendant revenue-cranking fee structure.

So the streamlined, cost-effective solution that the likes of Boots was seeking is not quite what media agencies are now delivering.

Boots now gets a more sophisticated service from OMD, and probably pays more for it. The solution? For Boots, it is to take the spirit of media centralisation to its logical extent and centralise all communications to lever new cost savings. But this seemingly blanket focus on price is no healthier for the business than those original media deals, and at least they were struck after careful consideration through a competitive pitch. MindShare's victory is a very hollow one indeed.

claire.beale@haynet.com.