MEDIA:FORUM; Is Media Audits wise to target strategic planning?

Media Audits announced last week that it is to set up a division to help advertisers evaluate the strategic planning services provided by its media specialists. Is Media Audits straying into dangerous territory? Will agencies feel threatened? And just how qualified is it to get involved in such an issue? Alasdair Reid reports

Media Audits announced last week that it is to set up a division to help

advertisers evaluate the strategic planning services provided by its

media specialists. Is Media Audits straying into dangerous territory?

Will agencies feel threatened? And just how qualified is it to get

involved in such an issue? Alasdair Reid reports

Media auditors would have you believe that they’re a universally

accepted fact of life. Agencies and media owners may have been

suspicious of them initially, but they have come to recognise the

clients’ right to seek a second opinion.

Perhaps. An entirely different perspective emerged from the recent Media

Circle meeting in Guernsey. The subject of media auditing dominated the

event and auditors had a surprising amount of vitriol heaped upon them.

While agencies continue to hint at malpractice, media owners argue that

auditors have a damaging influence on the market by teaching clients to

be obsessed with price rather than value. It’s still a very sensitive


So what will they make of last week’s developments at Media Audits? The

company has decided to create a strategic planning department and has

hired Zenith Media’s planning director, Sue Oriel, to head the


Should media specialists feel threatened? On the one hand, Media Audits

can hardly be accused of being obsessed with price - planning obviously

involves wider issues. On the other, it is becoming involved further

‘upstream’ in the advertising process.

Is the company qualified to dabble in these areas? Auditors may be able

to devise benchmarks for buying performance, but how can you do it for

strategy? And how can they hope to make sense of media strategy unless

they understand the creative strategy behind it?

If a client comes to regard Media Audits as the ultimate arbiter, will

it not begin to drive that client’s media strategy? Will it not, in

effect, become the media strategist?

John Storey, the joint managing director of Media Audits, insists

agencies shouldn’t feel threatened: ‘There’s no way that you can do a

thorough evaluation of a media company’s performance without it having

strategic implications. We’ve done a lot of work on effective frequency,

for instance, and once you know the effective frequency then you know

what the channel mix should be and how press and outdoor should come

into the mix.

‘Clients may come to us initially because they want accountability on

their agency’s buying performance, but they inevitably want to move

towards a higher level of evaluation. We are uniquely placed to offer

them a perspective,’ Storey continues.

He argues that the service will complement what agencies offer. ‘We will

never replace them,’ Storey maintains. ‘We can never get into the

position of making media plans because that would impinge on our ability

to evaluate campaigns - that would obviously be a disaster because that

is our core business.’

Some agencies are less than convinced. Mike Smallwood, the media

director of Lowe Howard-Spink, argues that it’s an unnecessary

diversion. ‘You can see why Media Audits wants to do this,’ he says.

‘There is no more potential for growth in its core price-auditing

business. But there are other things it should be looking at - things it

can do better. The logical conclusion to this is that it will seek to

copy what planner/buyers do. It will all fall apart when it starts

trying to duplicate our efforts.’

Smallwood questions whether there will be any real demand: ‘On a casual

consultancy basis, it will not have the expertise to make any sort of

impact. The biggest danger is that it doesn’t have that resource. Then

it would just skate across the surface and provide very bad advice

because it wouldn’t be able see the wider picture. To do a proper job

will take significant resource and commitment. Will clients be prepared

to pay for that?

‘I suspect that they will not, especially if all that Media Audits is

doing is duplicating what we do. If auditors can convince clients that

they are cleverer than we are, we will either have to bend to their view

or be replaced. We’ll see. Clients realise that they can’t have two

strategic points of view. One has to win out eventually,’ Smallwood


Bob Offen, the managing director of Mediastar, also has some

reservations: ‘From Media Audits’ point of view, this must seem like a

great idea, especially if clients

genuinely want it to do it. But it isn’t really what it has

traditionally been employed for - which is as a price watchdog. The

company can’t claim to have any track record in strategic areas.’

He continues: ‘Obviously, it wants to come treading on our patch, but

the industry’s response will be determined by how it does it - how

heavily it treads. Yes, this will fuel suspicions about auditors, and

some agencies are bound to be very nervous. The real market opportunity,

though, is in providing a complementary service.’

As a client, Dominic Owens, the manager of marketing services at Mercury

Communications, approves wholeheartedly: ‘I can see that some people

will be upset. But this could be a very valuable service. There is not

much point in getting that extra 2 per cent discount if I’m buying the

wrong media. Some advertisers don’t have enough time to investigate all

the options. How do we know that our specialist has considered all the

angles? Clients just don’t have that toolkit. Sometimes we need a new

perspective and unbiased advice. Media Audits has a very broad

perspective because it works across a wide range of advertisers.

Especially for smaller advertisers, what it is offering on planning

could be very good news.’

George Michaelides, a partner in the media planning specialist,

Michaelides and Bednash, agrees: ‘I’m happy for anyone to get involved

in this area, in whatever role, because I’m confident that we’re the

best at it. What it will do is draw more attention to planning and help

to make it clear to everyone that it is a separate function. This sort

of thing helps create a marketplace - more clients will be encouraged

to look at planning separately.

‘I’m sure Media Audits’ new offering will be a complementary service. It

would lose credibility as an auditor if it became too involved,’

Michaelides concludes.


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