Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Do you think media planning and buying is bound to split, with buying perhaps one day being sourced out to a big warehouse or two in India? If so, do you think this would take some of the entrepreneurial spirit out of the media side of the business?

A: I expect you're as fond as I am of the word disintermediation. Well, you ain't seen nuthin' yet. Media buying won't even need a warehouse. Warehouses will be disintermediated along with a few million media buyers. There'll just be allthemediaintheworld.com which will work like lastminute.com. Advertisers will buy direct, prices will vary by the second, clever people will wait until the last minute or alternatively buy well ahead. Sometimes both. Soon there'll be several allthemediaintheworld type sites, so there'll still be competition. One of them will be called easyMedia. Meanwhile, most of media planning will cuddle up again with creative, where it surely belongs. I hope this helps.

Q: I'm a junior executive at a medium-sized agency which is looking to strengthen its international presence. My agency chief has just relinquished control of the London office to our new management team to focus on growing the agency's network of offices? Is this wise?

A: Probably not. One of the many rum things about the advertising business is that the more important you get, the less you have to do with advertising. Take your chief. Nothing he's learnt as a good account handler will be of the slightest use to him now that he's charged with growing the agency's network of offices. Because he's now responsible for a network rather than a single office, he'll naturally begin to concentrate entirely on existing and potential network clients. Within a month, he'll have convinced himself that international business is more important than national business - just look at the numbers! At network meetings, when they all fly in to listen to his three-year plan, he'll spend two-and-a-half of the three days talking about MNCs and global business management. Within five years, you've lost most of your network's national clients; you've gained none; you're finding it harder and harder to recruit local talent; and even your international clients will be beginning to express coded anxiety. As for the chief himself, he's just fine - packed and poised for the next move up.

Q: I've noticed in the trade press that several senior, well-regarded ad executives have taken jobs at what are known as communications planning agencies. Is it time for me to get out of advertising and move to the media side too, or is this just a passing fad?

A: Early advertising pioneers made two serious mistakes. Both have plagued their successors ever since. First, they continued to call themselves advertising agencies long after that stopped being a remotely accurate description of all that they did. And second, of course, they never learned how to price their product. Having started life as agents working on behalf of media companies, they prospered on their media commissions alone. They therefore found it possible to provide their advertising clients with words, pictures, planning, ideas, merchandising, conference management, chairman-level counsel, grand strategy, qualitative pre-testing, new brand development, pack design and a whole bunch of other goodies - either for absolutely nothing or for not much more. And so it was, for 100 years or so, and with only the occasional squeak of protest, that ads themselves were only a fraction of what ad agencies provided; and ad agencies declined to charge their clients at all for precisely what those clients most valued. Creativity came as free as today's DVDs. It's hardly surprising, I suppose, that agencies acquired a reputation for not being the beadiest of business folk. To this very day, many in the trade find fee negotiations not only deeply stressful but also humiliatingly vulgar.

Much of the profusion of new terminology springs from a belated attempt to get a bit of commercial sanity back into the asylum.

Communications planning agencies, if well run, will do just a part of what the best of the old-fashioned ad agencies used to do but will get paid for it. Lots of other theoretically differently positioned companies with unfamiliar category names will increasingly be doing increasingly similar and competitive things. Some of them may even do as many things as those funny old full-service ad agencies used to do; and some of them may even be called ad agencies.

The moment you're certain which of these many upstarts is breaking away from the pack, you should do two things. Tell me; and join one.

"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683. Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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