Of the many changes that digital technology will bring to the
advertising industry, one of the most interesting will be its effect on
the relative standing of creative and media agencies.
Media planning and buying may have come a long way in the last five
years, but it still remains secondary in the eyes of most clients to
creative origination. It follows that the relationship with the creative
agency is still a higher priority than that with the media agency.
Digital could change all that - in a number of ways. Firstly, it will
accelerate the process that has already elevated media agencies from
their previous status as ’gorillas with calculators’. Media will
fragment - is fragmenting - at a frightening rate in the digital world.
Just look at the internet. Picking the right media channel from the
bewildering array of options available is becoming ever more difficult
and requires ever more valued and skilful input.
So skilful, in fact, that in the short term, at least, some media
agencies will prefer to use implementational specialists such as i-level
(Campaign, last week) for planning and buying on the internet. For the
moment, most traditional media agencies probably don’t have the in-house
expertise to get the best value for their clients on the net. Budgets
are still too small to guarantee the best attention of planner/buyers
with millions to worry about in press and TV.
However the implementation is done, there’s little doubt the real high
ground lies elsewhere. Digital won’t just complicate the media
landscape, it’ll change what you can do with media. Fragmentation may
rule out certain options - like quickly built mass coverage - but will
offer new ones, such as ultra-targeting. Put simply, the rules are
changing and clients need top-level strategic advice.
If the internet is a guide, clients will end up spending less on the
origination and production of a single, all-embracing brand message and
more on the distribution of a number of individually tailored messages
to the groups for whom they are intended.
So creative origination will continue to be important. But the media
strategy which both informs it and distributes it to the right people
will be even more crucial.
Beyond this service, there is a whole range of other opportunities to be
tapped. Clients won’t just communicate externally using digital, but
internally too. They’ll also do business digitally - and who better to
turn to for help than a business partner that has demonstrated an
understanding of this new world?
I’ve written in the past that ad agencies ought to be positioning
themselves to fulfil this need. But they aren’t doing so. It seems they
have been stymied by the inherent conservatism of the creative
departments around which their cultures are based. The traditional model
- of producing single, linear ads then moving on to the next one - does
not fit a world in which communication needs to be both diverse and
So it is the media agencies - for whom taking the strategic high ground
has long been a priority - which are best placed to fill the gap. Both
the opportunities - and the threats - are there. It only remains to see
who is alive to them.