In the same week that Bartle Bogle Hegarty announced it was creating a "fourth discipline" by injecting engagement planning into its creative business, Rocket, the media agency co-owned by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and PHD, announced it would be creating a standalone agency called Lunar.
This outfit will offer creative and media planning under one roof.
Both developments clearly recognise the growing need for media thinking to be embedded in the creative process. As the media become increasingly complex and consumers find it easier to dodge conventional commercial messages, a better understanding of how we all engage with content in the digital age is vital to develop outstanding creative work. So it seems logical, even necessary, to bring the two disciplines together - though not as a reinvention of the old full-service model, where media was always the poor relation to the creative process.
So Kevin Brown will run a team of media thinkers at BBH that will be every bit as important to the development of successful campaigns as the creative, planning or account handling teams at the agency. "The media landscape is changing and an agency now needs to bring knowledge of this change to the creative development process," Brown, the co-founder of Soul and now the director of engagement planning at BBH, explains. "It is a discipline that sits naturally alongside planning and account management. The intention is to fit a fourth discipline into every BBH office and, eventually, to offer every client, whether existing or new, the opportunity to utilise the offer."
Similarly at Lunar, creative and media will operate as equal partners to deliver their clients more effective advertising. Lunar (its original moniker, The House, had to be shelved when the team realised there was another agency of that name) will be headed by Mark Sherwood, who will also hold on to his role as the managing director of Rocket. Its chief creatives will be two AMV employees, Daryl Corps and Ben Kay.
Lunar will focus initially on the business AMV recently acquired for BT's 118 500 directory enquiries service and The Phone Book. Once up and running, Lunar will start offering its services to existing Rocket clients and will then try to secure new business.
Cynics, however, will point out that both of these new offerings represent a neat way to wrest more revenue out of an increasingly fractured market.
"This venture is most definitely a new revenue stream," Ian Pearman, the client services director of AMV, admits. He and the PHD executive planning director, Mark Holden, are the brains behind the Lunar project."As a start-up, it will initially attract clients with smaller budgets. Lots of clients don't have the money to make a big impact on television. Then we'll be going out and attacking the middle market," he adds. "These days, clients want two things: integration and lower costs. This is what we can offer."
But are either of these ventures really new or innovative? While the agencies involved are understandably lauding their initiatives as such, is it fair to say that they are covering some of the same ground as operations such as Naked or Michaelides & Bednash?
Pearman does not think this is the case. "Agencies such as Naked are basically a patch. They come into the equation when the communication between the creative agency and the media agency breaks down," he says.
"This can create a vacuum, which Naked fills.
"With the arrival of Lunar, there will be no need for the patch because communication will be constant throughout. The media plan will be there when the creative idea is conceived."
Brown is also keen to highlight the points of difference between other strategic planning offerings and BBH's own fourth discipline. "This is going to be an integrated part of the main body, not just some fancy bolt-on," he insists. "We have been talking for years about how people engage with media and we have been slowly working this into our strategies, so this is a natural, well-planned initiative that we have made sure fits exactly into the group's culture."
However, this will not stop a sceptical industry from accusing both ventures of gimmickry and jumping on the bandwagon. And there has also been a degree of speculation as to whether the initiatives are knee-jerk responses to specific client issues - BT in the case of Lunar, and Unilever at BBH as part of the global Omo pitch - rather than a long-planned strategy for the future.
However, both companies strongly deny these claims and believe the future success of their ventures will disprove any claims that they are merely a result of opportunism. Until then, Pearman stresses that the size and strength of the two companies behind Lunar and the experience of the management team is enough to ensure its success. Brown, meanwhile, points to the strength of the idea and the amount of planning BBH has put into it.
And the ventures have been given a thumbs-up from some past masters.
Graham Bednash, the managing partner at M&B, says: "If anyone can make it work, then it is BBH. The company's culture will accept the new organ because it is an equal discipline and not just a fashion accessory. If AMV and PHD can pick up more clients and not be solely reliant on BT, their initiative can be successful as well.
"However, they have to be careful to choose the correct teams because there is a shortage of talent on the media side. You need a particular sort of media thinker and a whole generation of people haven't worked on projects like this," he adds, pointing to almost two decades of division between creative and media.
"Many agencies have tried this since then and most have failed. The media landscape has changed and agencies can't rely on tried-and-tested methods any more."
It will be up to clients to decide whether Lunar and BBH's fourth discipline can establish themselves as credible new revenue streams in today's media landscape. And while a backward-looking industry may be cynical about ventures that have all the hallmarks of past initiatives, the two ventures do show a willingness by creative agencies to look for new ways to offer an integrated service. As more agencies recognise and react to the changes taking place in media and follow Lunar's and BBH's lead, the blurring of the line between media and creative can only continue.
PLANNING PIONEERS NAKED INSIDE What: A communications and media planning agency owned jointly by Clemmow Hornby Inge and Naked Communications Launched: December 2002 Clients: Premier Foods, English Heritage, The Telegraph Group ELEMENT COMMUNICATIONS What: A planning agency owned by WCRS and Naked Communications Launched: December 2004 Clients: BMW (now at PHD) HAPPEN@FALLON What: A communications planning joint venture between Fallon and Naked Launched: September 2004 Clients: The Tate Group, Skoda TBWA\CONNECTIONS What: TBWA's media planning arm Launched: November 2003 Clients: Haagen-Dazs, Masterfoods, Conde Nast