Media: All about ... Strategic media agencies

Does Village Green really have anything fresh to offer?

The advertising world has been hot with talk of a recent start-up. Oddly enough, it revolved around senior management from Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R breaking away to go it alone. There's been less talk surrounding the formation of an independent media agency called Village Green.

It will be a new agency led by the Starcom directors Andy Roberts and Adam Bishop, alongside Jane Kesley, the erstwhile head of Emap Advertising's cross-media solutions team, who left the media owner last year to launch her own consultancy, XmC.

They might be experienced operators who are hoping to offer clients "more effective brand solutions by engaging consumers through content" but they look set to face the same struggles experienced by others who have attempted to launch their own media agency in recent years: the might of the media planning and buying networks and clients who take some convincing to hire an independent.

While not being the biggest names in the media world, the trio have strong backgrounds in content and sponsorship, and issued the following claim on launching: "We are a company that makes advertising content strategies happen. Strategies that effectively close the traditional space between advertising and editorial and seek to drive greater value through higher consumer engagement."

So Village Green will be working on non-traditional spot activity, such as sponsorships, promotions, events and ad-funded content. This accounts for 10 per cent of adspend, according to the founders, but has the potential to rise to 20 per cent.

The question is: are they best placed to achieve this? Media, and even ad agencies, have realised they can grow revenues from these sources, so competition will be fierce. Village Green has given itself a fighting chance to bring in revenues by offering execution as well as the ideas, but cynics argue it will face a struggle because media agencies are better placed to offer these types of solutions as they can be more easily integrated into an advertiser's general media activity.

Village Green argues that it is fleet of foot and well placed to act in leading the process of "idea generation, negotiation and implementation". Perhaps it can learn from the experiences of some of the more established planning-led independents, which have been carving a niche for several years.

1. Naked Communications' name became synonymous with the nascent independent planning sector when it launched in 2000. It seemed to offer a real alternative to clients with its "media neutral" positioning and high-profile work for the likes of 118 118 and SuperNoodles. By the end of 2006, its London office employed 74 staff and it had 47 clients (the largest of which was Coca-Cola). It has attempted to circumvent the obvious growth issues faced by communications planning agencies (they don't want to get too big and become like the media agencies they broke away from) by diversifying through launching in international markets including the US, Australia and France, and by creating joint ventures with ad agencies. Companies House figures show that it made a pre-tax profit of £677,404 on a turnover of £5.7 million during 2005 (the most recent period where figures are available).

2. Some are surprised Naked's early success did not lead to a huge growth in the independent comms planning sector. Somehow, other agencies found its rapid growth hard to emulate. However, there are now a plethora of small media consultancies around London, formed by experienced media agency operators who fancied a new challenge. These tend to have one-word names such as Monkey, Rise, Experience and Goodstuff. The majority of these consultancies have at least one large blue-chip client. However, retained business remains hard to come by.

3. There has been a recent wave of start-ups that have lent more towards business-oriented goals and results. Edwards Grooms Saunders, an agency launched by three former Starcom directors last year, works for clients including Aviva and Ladbrokes, and has the tagline: "More effective communications planning." Later this summer, the former Manning Gottlieb OMD directors Phil Nunn and Amy Lennox, alongside the former Optimedia director Simon Timlett, will launch a planning agency combining digital and DM skills with brand comms planning. This, as well as the content approach offered by Village Green, looks like the new battleground.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

ADVERTISERS

- The launch of agencies such as Village Green potentially offers advertisers access to senior expertise who are not tied to large agency models and bias.

- However, hiring the independents does not appeal to all clients. Some seem happy to stick with the established model of retaining a creative and media agency and restricting the numbers of their agency partners.

- Some argue that for all the benefits of hiring independents, they can lack the day-to-day interaction with media owners and the sophisticated planning tools that the mainstream media agencies possess.

RIVAL PLANNING AGENCIES

- The launch of Village Green is unlikely to trouble many of the established communications planning agencies because it has its focus on branded content and other experiential-type activity.

- Of more pressing need for the comms planning sector is the move towards greater numbers of retained clients as opposed to small-scale project work, which is still the norm.

MEDIA AGENCIES

- Some argue that the independent media planning sector has never really taken off. The start-ups too often lack resource and have less access to media owners.

- However, 2 no doubt that five years or so ago the planning and buying agencies upped their game in terms of planning in response to the threat from the likes of Naked. They must now do the same in the content and digital spaces. And it seems that many already have a headstart.

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