PERSPECTIVE: Media issues affect clients despite what their creatives think

Who really understands clients' business best: media agencies or creative agencies? The two have been jostling for position at the advertisers' boardroom table for a few years now, but there's one key issue at the moment that is really underlining why media may claim the swivel chair.

It's a topic that one top advertiser has described as "the most important issue advertisers will face this century". Yet it barely registers on the radar of many creative agencies. It's time to stop all that head scratching about whether to cocktail at Cannes this year, and wise up to the merger between Carlton and Granada.

Anyone who has COI Communications or Procter & Gamble on their client list should have a view; in fact, anyone who has clients that advertise on TV should have a view. Yet most creative agencies seem barely able to articulate what's being proposed and certainly couldn't give enough hoots to have an informed opinion.

So, a quick update. After years of ITV mergers, Carlton and Granada are the last remaining ITV companies of any size. Now the two are proposing to unite the whole ITV system under one main company. The sticking point for anyone who has commercial dealings with ITV is that the merger could result in one sales point with a monopoly of ITV airtime and control of more than 50 per cent of all TV advertising.

ISBA has apparently spent £175,000 putting together its case against the merger, proof enough of the strength of feeling among agencies' paymasters.

On top of that, several large advertisers have made their own submissions to the Competition Commission to oppose consolidation. Now, this week the Competition Commission is hearing evidence from the IPA, ISBA and the broadcasters themselves and concerns among advertisers have reached SARS pitch.

It's a complicated issue. But to reduce the arguments to the basics, advertisers are against the merger because they fear the reduced competition will drive up the cost of advertising on ITV and on TV in general. Carlton and Granada see a merger as a way of cutting costs, shoring up investment in ITV and strengthening the balance sheet.

The merger crystallises how these big media issues go right to the core of advertisers' business, and how far removed many creative agencies are from the debate. The chasm between creative agencies and what media owners are up to has meant many agencies have no informed view on the key issues preoccupying their clients. With the Communications Bill about to shake the media world upside down once again, sensible clients will be working with their media agencies to decipher the business implications. Which does leave the rest of the industry to hone their dinner arrangements for the South of France.

- Caroline Marshall is on maternity leave.

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