Close-Up: Live Issue - Are full-service agencies set to return?

Is the IPA right to warn agencies to offer more disciplines under one roof, Pippa Considine asks.

The IPA's new report, The Future of Advertising and Agencies, warns that agencies must reinvent themselves or die. Within the next few years, they must redefine and offer a new mix of services. Is a return to the full-service model the answer?

Full service's proponents - and there are lots of them - say brands are yearning for all disciplines to be brought under one roof, alongside media. Bingo! The growing need to include communications channels with brand strategy and execution is addressed, plus the client gets to work with just one core team.

While some clients might like the idea of a one-stop shop, and agencies might want to be seen to be offering it, is full service practical?

It's not all that long - barely two decades - since there was nothing but full-service agencies. Now, in 2007, there is a raft of talented specialists in separate, competing disciplines, with the media behemoths an established part of the communications landscape.

There are those who argue that what we now have is a full-service model, it's just a bit bigger than it used to be. Jim Marshall, the chairman of Starcom UK, says: "I feel that full-service agencies have re-emerged in the form of group offerings ... individual agencies are unlikely to offer the whole range of services, whereas the groups can. It reflects what clients are actually looking for."

Others believe that mixing things up a bit, bringing different disciplines together in just one agency again, is a positive. Especially when you're looking for big brand ideas. Anything to avoid the old-fashioned, linear approach to communications, which has dictated the norm of television first, followed by everything else.

Some creative agencies have been reinventing their offering, bringing in media specialists and concentrating on building tight teams to lead brand strategy.

There's also a move to get specialists to share ideas informally with other specialists. At Ogilvy, the aim is to bring the different parts of the empire as close together as is realistically possible.

Arguably, it's the newer agencies, including digital shops, that have the flexibility to offer something closer to full-service. At the five-year-old Clemmow Hornby Inge, the reintegration of media buying has become a ponderable; while at glue London, the chief executive, Mark Cridge, says: "We're used to working in a more collaborative way. We like to start with an idea and then work out the media budget required from there."

But Cridge doesn't envisage a straightforward return to full service. He believes that the different agencies will need to react to the needs of the brand as they arise.

"You've got to start with how to engage with the consumer, so that means you very much have to consider the whole thing together. It's not about who takes the lead. It's going to be more complicated."

So, while the offer of a bit of simplification appears irresistible, it's hard to see how the large, established media and creative agencies might reintegrate. The creative agencies are gradually reintroducing media thinking, but surely bringing media buying back in-house is not possible.

Marshall says: "You're thinking about such an array of different and complex media that you can't offer the expertise necessary and by definition, you're going to have separate specialist organisations to handle it."

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CREATIVE AGENCY CHIEF - Nick Howarth, group chief executive, Clemmow Hornby Inge

"I think clients face a dilemma. They recognise the advantages of working with a single agency with one bottom line, which has specialists to give the best advice across channels; a single agency that is responsive, quick and efficient. However, they're also wary of the one-stop shop and beguiled by the idea of a collection of best in class agencies.

"Increasingly, clients will not organise themselves by channel, but will look to work with a group of talented individuals to get the best advice. There may be a demand for bringing media back in house as there may be a degree of fatigue with the level of service and quality of thinking from the big media houses."

DIRECT AGENCY CHIEF - Stuart Archibald, managing partner, Archibald Ingall Stretton

"I've worked across most agency models, and I firmly believe full service is the best possible route to delivering the best possible work.

"In my view, you can only plan properly by having everyone in one room and looking at a business issue from every angle, without blinkers or financial bias. This offers the fullest picture of both the problem and the solution, involving everyone in the 'big idea' and stepping away from creativity as a separate function.

"It's possible to deliver strong integrated work via disparate agencies - this works for us on a number of clients. But it's about talent. No model will create geniuses, but the full service model will help them flourish."

MEDIA PLANNER - Will Collin, partner, Naked Communications

"There are clear barriers to a return to the traditional full-service agency.

"At the significant scale that international clients increasingly require, it would be pretty much impossible for large creative agencies to reinstate media buying and credibly talk to Ford or Pepsi.

"Since media people left the ad agencies, they have grown up in isolation. There has been a consolidation of expertise in the placement of advertising in media agencies; while creative agencies have fantastic craft skills.

"The objective work required to provide totally integrated communications advice is now never going to happen in either of those environments."

GROUP CHIEF EXECUTIVE - Gary Leih, chairman and chief executive, Ogilvy Advertising

"We definitely don't want media buying back, but we do want some influence on where our clients spend their money, and the channels they choose.

"We don't want to be on the end of a media plan, we want to have an influence at an earlier stage. What's needed is a small group of people who work well together: the client, a consumer strategist, a creative and a channel planner.

"If you try to do those things in isolation, you have a slim chance of making great communications.

"I'm not suggesting everyone becomes a generalist - you've got to have specialists - but that doesn't mean they have to all be in separate buildings with separate management."


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