SPOTLIGHT ON: STRATEGIC PLANNING: Can big media shops vie with the new strategic planners? - Alasdair Reid looks at the latest trend for setting up specialist planning outfits

It’s good to plan. High-profile media planners talk telephone numbers these days - they are either the subject of big bucks transfer speculation or are putting phone lines into newly rented offices with their names above the door. In the week that Tilley Morris Pollard (or whatever they decide to call their new strategic planning outfit) announced that it would hit the ground running with five blue-chip clients, a couple of big buying points also had planning on their minds (Campaign, 27 June).

It’s good to plan. High-profile media planners talk telephone

numbers these days - they are either the subject of big bucks transfer

speculation or are putting phone lines into newly rented offices with

their names above the door. In the week that Tilley Morris Pollard (or

whatever they decide to call their new strategic planning outfit)

announced that it would hit the ground running with five blue-chip

clients, a couple of big buying points also had planning on their minds

(Campaign, 27 June).



One was Morris’s (if you go back far enough, Tilley’s and Pollard’s) old

employer, BMP Optimum, the other was Initiative Media. Optimum was

poaching Mark Palmer, the strategic communications guru at WCRS, to

’broaden the company’s planning expertise’ as it begins to ’look beyond

conventional media strategies’.



Initiative was also looking beyond the conventional. It has set up Go

Figure, a marketing communications consultancy that will advise clients

on how to maximise the effectiveness of their communications

budgets.



In other words, to use the current popular jargon, offer ’upstream

strategic planning advice’.



Soon there will be enough evidence to call this a trend. But is this a

game that the big media specialists really want to be in? Strategic

planning specialists are surely breaking away from the big media shops

precisely because planning talent is stifled there. Surely the big

players can’t hope to compete in this narrow specialisation?



Paul Taylor, the managing director of BMP Optimum, doesn’t see why

not.



He comments: ’You don’t have to be small to be clever. This is all a

matter of balance. We believe in the need to have good strategic

thinkers but we also know that you have to have well-funded research in

order to interrogate the proposed solution. Then you need to take it to

the market with the buyers who are able to execute the plan. But we’ve

been lucky here. We’ve won big centralisations but we’ve always been

allowed to be thoughtful.’



Ivan Pollard, one third of the new and as yet unnamed consultancy,

agrees with much of that. The big specialists can certainly have a crack

at providing bespoke media strategy - but he questions if they can do it

quite as well as the new breed of specialised companies. He adds: ’I’m

not sure that they have the time and resource or the motivation. The

structure of most big companies is orientated around the buying

function. The resource devoted to planning is not quite there in terms

of experience, seniority and time.



’Media planning is not the engine of their business - in the worst

cases, planning is an optional extra. And, because the focus is on

buying, that side of the business can introduce impurities into the

planning process, resulting in less-than-optimum solutions for the

client. Their advice will tend to get limited to the conventional media

where their buying expertise is most beneficial.’



That’s not a picture that Andrew Sharp, who heads Go Figure,

recognises.



His operation has identified 50 routes to reaching the customer -

everything from conventional media to disciplines such as packaging. ’I

don’t think it’s a problem that there’s competition out there. I believe

it is going to come from management consultancies and organisations like

the Henley Centre as well as from the advertising industry,’ he

says.



’We will look at the big picture and we have the resources and the data

to be able to do it. It’s true that sophisticated planning can be window

dressing in big companies that are primarily in the business of earning

commission from media buying. But that doesn’t apply to Initiative,

which is largely fee-based in its approach. We are able to offer

genuinely independent planning advice.’



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