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
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
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
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
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.’