PERSPECTIVE: Clients might ask for media neutrality but do agencies deliver?

Journalists soon learn that a few words of disapproval in an article are remembered forever, yet we can produce 1,200 words of elaborate praise and they will be forgotten by the following week.

The subjects in Campaign's ongoing series, the Client Catalysts, face the same trap. Take a swipe at agencies for their inability to recruit people who can work in other markets, question why agencies persist with financial structures that motivate managers to boost their own bottom line at the expense of the group, point out that agencies do little more than talk a good game when it comes to offering integrated solutions, and they might find themselves characterised as one of those client thugs who likes to browbeat agencies into submission for sport.

But there is one theme that recurs and deserves closer attention. It is that thorny issue of integration, media neutral thinking, call it what you will. Here, in the order they happen to come to mind, are some of those clients commenting on the topic. "All too often agencies string together up to ten separate units and expect the client to deal with each one. I don't want to talk to ten people who don't often talk to each other

(Ann Francke, Mars); "Agencies all talk a good game in claiming to offer communications solutions, but they don't. An obsession with traditional advertising has caused many agencies to paint themselves into a corner

(Carol Fisher, COI Communications); "The holding companies have bought in other expertise, but the driver remains the traditional model of broadcast advertising

(Frank Cella of Nestle, interviewed on p20 of this issue).

These arguments have been put forward before and often over the past ten years or so, but it is amazing that some of the biggest clients, the most interesting users of media, face continuing frustrations. Perhaps it's their own fault for clinging to the system of payment by commission. After all they've had since the beginning of the 19th century, when print was the only major advertising medium, to realise that ad agencies are not just sales agents for media owners but providers of creative services too. Indeed, it took the growth of media buying as a separate business to really force advertisers such as Nestle to test payment methods that have something to do with how effective either side really is.

And yet, on balance, I'd say that clients are more sinned against than sinning in this debate. Little will change as long as the driver within most agencies remains the traditional model of broadcast advertising, with working environments, bonuses and salaries structured accordingly.

Finally, and bringing the subject a little closer to home, please write in to point out the irony of segmenting the communications market into one stupendous mainstream advertising magazine (you're reading it) plus other business titles championing other parts of the communications mix.

You won't be the first!

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