Most agencies with a newspaper on their client list will testify
that media owners tend to think they can create ads as well as, if not
better than, their good selves.
So the fact that Channel 4 has launched 4creative as a commercial
proposition, and last week's news that the BBC is bolstering its
Creative Services division with former ad agency staffers, should not
come as too big a shock.
TV stations have a long history of creative output that goes beyond
programme production. The new satellite channels emerging in the UK a
decade or so ago often found that their advertisers were small enough to
need help actually making commercials to air on the new channels; the
broadcasters were keen to lend their expertise in return for advertising
The BBC has developed short film promotions for its own programmes that
are far more strategically and creatively savvy than simple clips.
At Channel 4 the evolution of 4creative is very much down to Polly
Cochrane, the channel's marketing director, and her partnership with
David Brook, the station's director of strategy and development.
Cochrane comes from an agency background. She was a graduate trainee at
WCRS and one of the original line-up at the Saatchi & Saatchi breakaway
Cowan Kemsley Taylor.
"Starting up 4creative gave me a real sense of deja vu," she says,
referring to her days at CKT. She moved to the client side at Vanity
Fair before leaving for The Guardian, where she met Brook. She moved
with him to Channel 5, then on to Channel 4.
One of Cochrane's first tasks on her arrival was to co-ordinate Channel
4's on-air and off-air promotions. She also needed to hire a creative
director and turned to Dave Buonaguidi, who formerly filled the post at
"It struck me that on-air promotions were undervalued," she says. "They
were treated a bit like house ads in publishing; shunted around like the
least important thing. We wanted to turn the perception of on-air
promotions to ads for our programmes and our brand."
Cochrane says that once the department developed a creative advertising
environment, it became inundated with requests from other Channel 4
divisions to produce posters and title sequences. The department was
also asked to pitch for, or simply create, sponsorship idents such as
the BeMe.com spots that Buonaguidi produced to surround the Ally McBeal
series. Such ident work has since included Southern Comfort's Big
Brother sponsorship and Bailey's Sex And The City spots.
With demand growing, the decision was made to staff up the division and
launch it as a special unit which, Cochrane says, "it would be crazy not
to allow external clients to tap into".
George Michaelides, the founder of Michaelides & Bednash, which has
worked closely with Channel 4 for four years, says today's on-air
promotions are of a very high standard."They all have ideas behind them,
they're not just showing a clip." He cites the BBC's promotion of
EastEnders which used the line "everybody's talking about it" and
featured ordinary people gossiping about the soap's plot, as well as
Channel 4's promotions of Brookside. "They're very good at doing TV and
very good at understanding media brands, which are very different to
FMCG products or cars," Michaelides says.
He believes marketing media brands is in many ways more difficult than
marketing FMCG brands, as it is hard to distil them down to a simple
idea such as an ability to "wash whiter than white".
So is there any evidence of TV stations actually winning business from
ad agencies? Yes and no. 4creative beat Bates to the account for
Attheraces, a consortium consisting of Channel 4, BSkyB and Arena
Leisure, and will be launching work for the brand in November. But given
horse-racing's long association with Channel 4, and the fact that the
channel's digital service will offer viewers a betting facility, the win
is very much in 4creative's area of expertise.
Cochrane says she does not see 4creative competing too directly with
FMCG-focused ad agencies: "The kind of products we are suited for are
TV-related. Anything where the expected end result will be a moving
image. We will appeal to clients who want a content-led solution to the
brief, rather than an advertising-led solution to a brief."
The BBC, unwilling to contribute to this article, is moving closer to
competing with agencies. Its roster, which includes Abbott Mead Vickers
BBDO, Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters and Fallon, is now only called in to
do the jobs that Creative Services feels unable to handle. Creative for
5 Live, for instance, was produced by Fallon, then taken in-house in
More importantly, BBCMediaArc, part of BBC Resources, has formed an
alliance with BMP DDB's interactive division, BMPtvi, to pitch for
Sources close to the BBC are unflattering in their descriptions of BBC
Creative Services. They agree that staff in the department view
themselves as competing with agencies. However, one says: "It's about
getting the right range of skills. It involves planning and account
management, not just a basic creative idea based on content. Who, for
those skills, would choose Creative Services rather than a top ad
His words are echoed by Martin Jones, owner of the AAR. He thinks that,
given the right people, TV stations are capable of making good ads, but
says the best people, wouldn't want to leave the industry. "It depends
on who they employ. Most people who work in advertising agencies like
It is not the first time in advertising history that a client has felt
able to cut out the middle man. Lever set up Lever International
Advertising Services - or Lintas - in 1928 to handle its advertising and
win contracts from other companies. Then there's Kevin Morley Marketing.
The agency was set up by the marketing director of Rover in 1992 and
sold to Ammirati Puris Lintas three years later, complete with the Rover
However, "clients" are now competing with agencies over a substantially
shifting communications landscape. Agencies are accustomed to producing
ads and many have shown a hurried commitment to the interactive world,
but Michaelides thinks that new channels of communication are now
essential and that broadcasters are in a good position to forge
He cites the recent BMW films downloadable from the internet as an
example of how narrative-based promotions, which broadcasters can do
very well, talk to consumers. "Agencies have to get used to seeing
outside of the boxes. People are tired of being shouted at so we need
other ways of engaging and involving them," he explains.
The most likely scenario, according to Michaelides, is that agencies
will work alongside the broadcasters. Cochrane agrees: "People are
increasingly looking for new ways to engage the audience. This can
involve becoming a content-provider rather than an advertiser. But
advertising still very much has its place."
Cochrane is still working on the raison d'etre of 4creative. She says
it's not quite ready to sign up at the AAR because "we are still
open-minded about where our business will come from. We haven't been
touting around town yet because we're using internal business to create
And it's the Channel 4 brand's reputation that will give 4creative an
edge. Its strength and youth appeal will give the division a unique
advantage when it starts going head-to-head for business with agencies.