It’s not uncommon these days to hear media specialists talking
about the dawning of a new way of working. The industry is poised, we
are told, for an evolutionary leap with media specialists claiming their
rightful place at the head of the advertising food chain.
Having broken up the comfortable old full-service structures,
specialists have spent the past few years emerging from the shadow of
Now they are achieving parity - accounts are almost always split, with
separate pitches for creative and media. The next stage will obviously
see a continuation of this trend, with media finally eclipsing
Clients will come to media companies first and creative tasks will only
be assigned when the media strategy has been thrashed out.
A convincing story. Wholly credible. Until something like last week’s
Millennium account squabble spoils the picture.
To recap: M&C Saatchi won the pounds 16 million New Millennium
Experience Company task in August. M&C Saatchi doesn’t have a media
department and, at that time, it didn’t even have equity in a media
company. It did, however, believe that it had the media buying account
in its gift - an old-fashioned full-service task. Walker Media, M&C
Saatchi’s new joint venture with Christine Walker, was regarded as a
shoo-in for the buying task (Campaign, last week).
It has taken a dusty old government department (NMEC will be spending
public money) to point out that perhaps there could have been a
competitive media pitch.
Problem is, the whole affair has awakened a suspicion that, actually,
the business does still work ’that way’. Clients appoint suits and
coloured pencils. Media is still that difficult bit, an awkward grey
area. Don’t creative agencies still have a disproportionate influence on
who gets the media?
Colin Gottlieb, the managing partner of Manning Gottlieb Media, doesn’t
like the word ’disproportionate’ but he does concede that it’s still an
important factor. He states: ’I’d say in terms of pitches that routinely
come along, half are effectively full-service media pitches with a team
comprised of a creative agency and a media company picking up the
business at one go. It’s complicated by the fact that media dependants
often pitch alongside parent agencies. When the dependant wins the
media, they tend to say they’ve won against two unnamed agencies. And
everyone goes, ’Oh yeah?’.’
But the worrying thing is that many specialists admit they will still
work as subcontractors to the creative agency rather than having a
contract with the client. Surely a sector that had aspirations to lead
the industry would be wise to start outlawing such relationships?
Gottlieb argues that being flexible is all part of helping to advance
media’s cause. ’Our view is that, if we do do it, we have something to
sell as a company and within a short space of time we will have
developed a close relationship with the client. If the creative agency
is fired we believe we will always stand a chance of staying on,’ he
But many media specialists point out that the clients who cling to an
old mindset represent a small proportion of the market. Jim Marshall,
the chief executive of MediaVest, argues that where the top 50 spenders
are concerned, the business has very definitely changed, with media
being given a high priority. He says: ’Look at how many big clients have
centralised media. Where they are concerned, the game has moved on.’
But would he work for an agency rather than direct for the client? ’What
it comes down to, if we’re being honest, is that we’re all tarts. All
clients believe they are special and different and want things done
their way. We’ll consider anything. There are no rules.’