CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/INTERACTIVE TV - How are agencies adapting to the new-media era? Does the new-media world require a new ad agency model, Alasdair Reid asks

Interactive television is about the art of possibility and the media companies developing the new systems obviously know most about what is possible.

Interactive television is about the art of possibility and the

media companies developing the new systems obviously know most about

what is possible.

Media owners clearly don’t want this story being diluted by

intermediaries, particularly not ad agencies whose lack of true

evangelical enthusiasm is, they might suspect, reflected in their lack

of focus.

One of the problems for agencies is that interactive tends to fall

between at least three stools. It involves the production of a

television commercial, of course, but you also need strategic and

technical expertise in designing and maintaining microsites in the

interactive domain.

You then need a good measure of direct marketing expertise because

direct customer contact is what interactive is all about.

So it’s often hard to work out which of the client’s many marketing

services companies should be taking a lead role in all of this.

Indeed, one or two clients have been voicing disappointment recently

that no-one seems to be stepping forward to fill this void.

Which is why two recent interactive initiatives, one from BMP DDB and

the other from HHCL & Partners, should attract more than a passing

interest - not just from their existing clients but from the industry as

a whole.

Could either of these new operations provide a template for the sort of

unit that will come to ’own’ the interactive TV territory?

On the face of it, they embody very different approaches. BMP is

creating what amounts to a full-service interactive agency, called

BMPTVi, while HHCL has formed a strategic alliance with Cylo, a TV

production company with a substantial track record in interactive. Cylo

will work with HHCL to train its planners and creatives so they are

equipped to include interactive campaign elements at the earliest

possible stages of the development process.

Emma Jenks, the head of alliancing at HHCL, who is working with Susie

Brooks-Smith, Cylo’s UK managing director, and Alice Macinnes, its

director of technology and development, says: ’This is very much an HHCL

approach to things. We don’t compartmentalise. We don’t want an

e-department. Our approach is to infiltrate everyone in the agency with


BMPTVi embodies a more compartmentalised approach, though it will be

fully integrated with the workings of all other parts of the BMP


But it’s essentially a full-service agency for the new millennium, with

most of the core interactive disciplines under one roof - account

management, planning and brand strategy, a creative department and

specialists in interactive platform technologies.

Some of these functions will exist initially in a co-ordinating role,

for instance drawing together above-the-line, interactive and direct

response creative expertise from other parts of the group. On the media

side it will have an in-house strategic planning function that will

liaise with OMD UK and BMP Interactive.

Over the short to medium term it will be an internal resource offered to

existing clients within the group but, ultimately, it wants the same

relationship with clients that the main agency has with advertisers who

have traditionally focused on what’s referred to as ’above-the-line TV’.

Ultimately, it will pitch for clients in its own right.

Could this sort of thing catch on? Quite possibly, says Chris Harrison,

who heads a similar unit already launched by Grey. ’A lot of other

agencies looking to get involved in interactive tend to want to

subcontract a lot of these functions and try to bolt them on to a

30-second commercial,’ he says.

’The problem is that they don’t understand the implications. They might

find themselves having to shoot a different version of the commercial

for each interactive platform. Some clients might feel more comfortable

doing it in a piecemeal way and that’s perfectly valid. I can see why

some agencies might feel uncomfortable about resourcing this sort of

thing at this stage of the game - and it is continually evolving. The

more activity and the more ideas there are in this area, the better - we

obviously welcome what BMP is doing.’

Others are slightly more sceptical about any effort mustered by creative

agencies in this sector and, in recent months, some commentators have

been predicting that media specialists will come to take a lead role in

this area.

Paul Longhurst, the managing director of Quantum New Media Services,

believes that communications specialists can offer more flexibility. ’I

think the rules will change because accountability will be such a big

issue in interactive - you can tell almost immediately whether you’ve

achieved the response you wanted. That, in turn, will lead to more

short-term contracts, which will fundamentally affect the way agencies

have to approach this sector.

’It will also involve a far greater spectrum of skill-sets than we

currently see. To cover every eventuality with a standalone agency,

you’d have to have a lot of talent under one roof. In an interactive

environment where media owners call the shots it makes much more sense

for media specialists with the right skills to broker deals. From there,

the appropriate types of creativity can flow.’

Andrew Howells, the managing director of BMPTVi, is confident that his

new operation will be of great interest to clients. He had already

attracted Sony, Barclaycard and Trivial Pursuit, but he is not claiming

a monopoly on wisdom in this area. Not yet, anyway.

He says: ’I’m sure there will be other players and other structures. But

what BMPTVi allows us to do is to make the most of the skill-sets that

we already have within the group and capitalise on the relationships the

agency has with its clients. We want the same relationship with the

client as they have with the main agency and ultimately we believe that

clients are much more comfortable with having one bum to smack.’

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