CREATING THE SALE: More sales people are developing innovative opportunities by dealing directly with creative agencies. Harriet Marsh finds out how it’s done

In today’s competitive and fast-moving media environment, good ideas count for everything. An increasing number of media owners are getting involved in the advertising process further up the chain, dealing with creative agencies and brand owners.

In today’s competitive and fast-moving media environment, good

ideas count for everything. An increasing number of media owners are

getting involved in the advertising process further up the chain,

dealing with creative agencies and brand owners.

It was with this in mind that Capital Radio decided, late last year, to

expand its strategic business unit to include a creative services

division, with the sole purpose of keeping creative agencies and

production houses up to speed with the latest developments in radio.

’We actually started talking directly to creative agencies about a year

ago,’ says Nikki Mendonca, head of business strategy at Capital


’We felt that the growing importance of media independents had led to

creative agencies becoming divorced from new developments in media.’

She admits that, initially, direct conversations with creatives were

sometimes difficult. ’Some of them had shied away from radio because it

was not perceived to be a glamorous medium. But the tide has started to

turn in the past six months,’ she adds. ’It’s because the pressure is

now on to create more multi-media communication plans. If the creatives

don’t know how to put together an effective radio commercial, they’re in


Capital Radio is not the only media owner to spot the advantage in

starting a dialogue further up the chain. Classic FM is expanding a

similar strategic unit, whose remit includes working with media

planners, account planners, account handlers and creatives. TDI has been

developing direct relationships with creative agencies for several

years, but this has been stepped up in the past year in a bid to keep

creatives up to date with the latest innovations in transport


At the National Magazine Company, Tim Lucas, formerly planning director

at McCann-Erickson, leads a team dedicated to developing long-term

strategic solutions for clients across its portfolio of magazines and


Channel 4 recently created a separate department specifically to liaise

with planners and clients (Media Business, 20 March).

And Carlton Digital Sales has started working with its clients’ PR

agencies to develop creative media opportunities, although it declines

to go into too much detail about them. Such moves enable media owners to

access the creative process much earlier, with the hope that better

campaigns will result.

Classic FM sales director Simon Daglish says: ’We set up the strategic

unit in response to what was happening in agencies, where the

decision-making process is moving further away from media buyers towards

media planners and account planners. We’ve also got a client services

department in order to bring the client into the loop. We find this way

of working more fruitful in terms of getting results.’

And if this does succeed in getting good results, it helps establish a

secure, long-lasting relationship with clients - and the media owner

benefits too.

’It’s business building - we are spreading our net into other areas

where there isn’t a direct trading relationship,’ says Mendonca. ’These

people are divorced from the rate negotiation, which gives them more

credibility with their audience.’

Capital Radio’s recent focus has been on linking radio campaigns to

television, print and internet work. As a result, Tesco has now started

to use the Prunella Scales and Jane Horrocks characters in its radio

campaign as well as in its television executions, and Sainsbury’s has

extended its TV theme music into the latest radio campaign.

So where does this leave the media buyer? Media owners still admit the

traditional relationship between the media sales team and the agency

buyers remains at the core of the business.

Yet the relationship between sales team and agency buyer is often

focused on the short term. Buyers are often too busy to listen to new

ideas from sales people, especially if they have no immediate relevance

to a client’s current schedule.

’I can see why media owners feel they have to bypass some media

agencies, because they get the feeling the agency is just not interested

in what they have to say,’ says Tess Alps, executive chairman of Drum


Consequently, Drum PHD positions itself as an agency that is open to new

initiatives and it admits it would prefer not to be left out of the

loop. ’I think we should still be the focal point,’ says Alps. ’Some

creative agencies get scared off by direct contact from media owners.

Similarly, we occasionally catch media owners trying to persuade clients

to do something they are never going to agree to without consulting


Another agency that prefers to keep abreast of new developments is

Manning Gottlieb Media. Last year, MGM set up a creative media

department designed to encourage the take-up of imaginative ideas,

whether they come from media owners or creative agencies.

’We generate media opportunities, either by talking directly to the

creative agencies we work with, or by looking for some new digital

agency that has the interactive and creative skills lacking in some of

the bigger shops,’ says Patrick Morrison, head of creative media at MGM.

’Some creative agencies’ priorities are based around how to create

award-winning TV commercials, rather than matching fast-moving and

evolving media opportunities.’

MGM recently won the National Drugs Helpline account when it pitched

alongside creative agency St Luke’s. A key factor in the win was a media

strategy that combined traditional media with a broad range of

alternative channels, which could take the message to an elusive 11- to

16-year-old audience.

’This way of working - where the media and the creative idea are

developed at the same time - is the way forward,’ says Morrison. ’The

media owner contributes to this by being as creative as we are trying to

be. Good agencies understand that media owners are likely to be good at

using their own media. Then it’s easy to sit around the table and share

ideas. Ideally there isn’t any conflict. When we leave the table, we

then have a bit of a fight over negotiation - as we should do.’

Regular travellers on London buses will have witnessed TDI’s creative

media opportunities working to the benefit of its advertisers. The

company has a dedicated team of two, whose job it is to keep creatives

up to date with the latest developments. ’We’re trying to provide a

service, whether that is a template, animation spec art or anything else

that is useful,’ explains design manager Marc Evanson.

Nike’s campaign using Astroturf, and the 3D moving eyes that peered down

from buses as part of Buena Vista’s advertising for A Bug’s Life, are

two initiatives the team has developed.

Providing clients with solutions tailored to their needs gives media

owners a powerful selling tool. ’You have got to offer more than the

competitor,’ says Dave King, sales director at Emap On Air, which is

developing its cross-media sales operation and talking directly to both

agencies and clients. ’You have got to be able to offer more than just

the delivery of X thousand of the target audience, and a tailored

solution is one of the ways forward.’

It is not surprising, therefore, that most media owners predict that

more companies will go down this route.

’I think people will get better at it,’ says NatMags’ Lucas. ’It is the

best way of generating new business and probably the best way of

maintaining existing business. But for it to work, media owners have to

be serious about giving clients the results they want.’


Promoting media opportunities to creative agencies and clients is a very

different task to selling a spot ad or a double-page spread to a buyer.

Here are a few rules to bear in mind.

Remember the media agency

Media owners can find it difficult to establish relationships outside

their normal remit. Forward-thinking media agencies are capitalising on

this by opening themselves up to creative ideas, ensuring they remain at

the centre of the process.

Remember that targeting a creative agency or client isn’t about going

behind the media agency’s back, it’s about developing innovative ideas

that build brands. Open-minded media agencies should be only too pleased

to help you do this.

Forget the hard sell

’You have to take a softly-softly approach, especially with creatives in

the bigger agencies,’ says Capital Radio’s Mendonca. ’We often get an

endorsement from client services and the head of account planning.’

It is important to remember that the aim in talking to those higher up

the creative process is to develop a long-term relationship, not just a

short-term sell. NatMags’ Lucas says: ’If you were under pressure to

close this month’s issue, it would be very difficult to have a

conversation with a client that might not generate a result for 18

months. We share the same objectives as the sales team but we conduct

our business in a very different way.’

Be diplomatic

’Account handlers in creative agencies want to be educated and to find

out about media consumption,’ says Mendonca. ’Creatives, however, don’t

want to be told how to suck eggs, so the pitch to them is slightly


It’s more about encouraging them in a workshop situation where they can

kick ideas around.’

TDI’s Evanson adopts a similar principle. ’Don’t go in there and say

’this is the way to do it’ - that won’t get you anywhere. Instead, make

them aware of innovations and establish how they feel about your


Classic FM’s Daglish stresses it is important not to be


Make sure you understand the creatives’ goals before going in with your

ideas: ’There is no point going at loggerheads with a creative team

because you’ll create an impasse.’

Motivate your contacts

TDI has found its annual award for the best bus advertising to be a good

motivator. ’Last year, the top prize was a couple of round-the-world air

tickets,’ says Evanson. ’The competition has been running for two years

and has been very successful.’

Often, it is easier to spark up a relationship with younger shops than

with the established creative agencies. In some instances, clients can

provide the way in to an agency.

’Sometimes we get the client into a workshop first,’ says Mendonca.

’They then turn to their creative agency and advise them to go too.’