MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: @ THE HUB - BLM and TBWA’s joint venture draws fire from its detractors. Rivals claim the link-up is a way of retaining a tough client, Alasdair Reid says

There’s been a lot of talk about the full-service agency recently - and not all of it has been idle nostalgia. Some clients obviously miss the simplicity of the one-stop shop. Others feel that for certain types of task it’s rather effective to have media people and creative people sitting in the same room all day, bouncing ideas off each other and reacting with the sort of instinctive understanding that you just can’t hope to develop via the telephone and e-mail, even if this is supplemented by the odd face-to-face meeting.

There’s been a lot of talk about the full-service agency recently -

and not all of it has been idle nostalgia. Some clients obviously miss

the simplicity of the one-stop shop. Others feel that for certain types

of task it’s rather effective to have media people and creative people

sitting in the same room all day, bouncing ideas off each other and

reacting with the sort of instinctive understanding that you just can’t

hope to develop via the telephone and e-mail, even if this is

supplemented by the odd face-to-face meeting.



This sort of talk will be music to the ears of those at both TBWA GGT

Simons Palmer and Booth Lockett Makin. Last week they unveiled a joint

venture that in some senses rolls back the years. Called @ the Hub, it

will see some TBWA staffers - creatives and account handlers - moving

into the new BLM offices to create what is, in effect, a miniature

full-service agency to service the Thomas Cook account.



Steve Booth, BLM’s managing partner, is cautious about overhyping the

new arrangement. On the other hand he doesn’t want people to dismiss

this initiative as a nostalgic attempt to ’put the band back together’.

He states: ’Structurally, the idea is that the client gets ownership of

the territory - in its first incarnation, the operation is called Thomas

Cook @ the Hub and the client has total access to the floorspace at all

times.



That in itself is innovative. It acknowledges that the best creativity

has to be there but also acknowledges that media often takes priority

for retailers - for the more dynamic retailers media becomes a channel

of distribution and not just an outlet for ads. Of course that involves

not only digital interactive TV and the internet, but print media

too.’



It may look like a full-service agency but it’s a joint venture - a

partnership of media and creative equals. TBWA may well be providing the

account handling function but the unit is located on the media company’s

turf. Is this a ’best of both worlds’ sort of an arrangement? Is this a

reconfiguration of the past that might provide us with a vision of the

future?



Perhaps, predictably, rival media specialists don’t think so. In fact,

they tend to react with a surprising hostility. The standard argument is

that creative shops and media specialists develop virtual full-service

relationships on all the accounts they handle jointly.



The location question - in other words, the pros and cons of whether to

have all the people working under the same roof - is, they insist,

irrelevant.



One media company principal comments: ’This whole thing about retail and

new media is a nonsense. Every single client these days asks you to do

difficult things. This is about BLM and TBWA desperately trying to find

a way of keeping a notoriously difficult client. Is this the start of

something new? The answer is no. Should other specialists be looking at

doing this? Absolutely not. I’ll eat my words if they start winning lots

of new business but I’ll stake my car on the fact that they won’t.



It’s about keeping business they’ve already got. Other than that, it’s

just a gimmick.’



George Michaelides, the managing partner of Michaelides & Bednash,

argues that it’s misleading to talk about structural models. He says:

’There are loads of different approaches being taken by people. It’s

about finding the right one for the right circumstances. The problem

with nostalgia for full service - and it probably does exist - is that

clients tend to forget the bad things. It might have been a one-stop

shop but they tended to get the solution they didn’t want. Clients were

at the forefront in wanting things to be separated out.’



The interesting thing, observers say, will be to see if @ the Hub

emerges as a serious contender for other new business. Booth says it’s

not impossible.



’It might not be for everyone,’ he admits. ’But where else in London can

you get high-quality full service, not just in terms of our approach but

in terms of it all being in the one location?’