D&AD: Through the Barricades

Media has been separate from creative since the end of full-service shops in the late 80s. However, initiatives such as Naked Inside are bringing them together, Ian Darby says.

"And now I know what they're saying in the music of the parade/and we made our love on wasteland and through the barricades." Fine words from Spandau Ballet that seem to encapsulate the pain of conflict in Northern Ireland.

But they could also be stretched to apply to the relationship between media and advertising agencies following the breakaway of ad agency media departments to form standalone agencies.

In the old days, before the 90s, most large creative agencies had their in-house media planning and buying department. The media buyers co-existed in the same building as the creatives and the media planners were on hand to work with account and creative people.

But then, according to conventional wisdom, a mix of ad agency apathy toward their media colleagues, ad agency ineptitude at making serious money from media and the entrepreneurial instincts of many media department heads led to them being unbundled from the creative offering.

Saatchi & Saatchi and Bates UK started the process by forming Zenith in the UK in 1988 and other networks soon followed to join a scene of established media independents such as Chris Ingram Associates and The Media Business.

This seemed to bring many positives - including thriving media businesses that in many cases made more money than their creative sister agencies and an emphasis on media expertise in its own right that was able to develop independently of creative paymasters. However, something was also lost in the breakaway: the ease at which, on occasions, creatives and media planners could work on client briefs together to deliver outstanding results.

That's not to say that this went away altogether - agencies such as PHD, for example, stood out for their desire to get in and work closely with creative agencies. But in recent years there has been some sort of movement toward bringing media back into closer contact with creative agencies.

The launch of communications planning agencies such as Naked Communications helped this process because their own position of "media neutrality" enabled them to work with clients and ad agencies at the start of the briefing process to help determine the type of media and message that would be used in campaigns.

Things have moved on a stage further with creative agencies now bringing back media expertise inhouse. Naked has established a joint venture with the creative agency Clemmow Hornby Inge called Naked Inside. This involves the partner Tim Allnutt and his team being based at CHI's offices. A different model has involved TBWA\London hiring the former Optimedia director Enyi Nwosu to head its TBWA\Connections media offering.

So do moves such as this represent a significant shift toward breaking down the barricades between media and creative and, if so, what might be driving it?

Nwosu joined TBWA\London last year to launch its Connections unit (which is backed by the media buying skills of the TBWA sister agency Manning Gottlieb OMD). The idea is to get Nwosu, a media man by background, in the same room as the creatives and account teams to develop big ideas that come out of a central thought.

Nwosu says: "What's driving it is that clients are using really good media agencies and really good creative agencies but they're giving different advice and pulling them in opposite directions."

Connections works for clients such as Masterfoods as the lead agency on media strategy but because it is so closely tied to the creative agency, it hopes to ensure that the big media ideas match the creative approach.

The argument against TBWA's model of bringing a media man back in-house is, according to critics, that it will be naturally biased toward offering ideas that involve traditional advertising to feed the TBWA creative department and Manning Gottlieb's buying operation. The paymaster is the creative agency, so it will always hold sway, is the allegation.

Graham Bednash is the managing partner of Michaelides & Bednash. The agency was launched in the mid-90s by the former HHCL & Partners executives Bednash and George Michaelides. It positions itself as a hybrid of a media and creative agency but does not buy media or execute creative strategies.

"I don't think there is demand from clients for agencies to have media in the creative agency," Bednash says. "If we had a creative factory with art directors and copywriters, we'd be hidebound by the way advertising has worked for the past 50 years."

So why are creative agencies bringing media in-house again? "What's happened is that creative agencies have realised they have made a bit of an error," Bednash says. This error, he continues, relates to the revenues they may be losing by not being involved in the increasingly important area of communications planning, but more importantly to the ideas they lost when media broke away.

Allnutt says: "What clients want is small teams of people in a room together, talking about how ideas can actually happen - getting a creative, a communications planner and account planner in the same room. The geographical separation made this difficult."

There may be an increased need for this separation to end because of media fragmentation and the sheer range of choices available beyond traditional advertising.

Bednash says: "Very large clients are now saying this. Procter & Gamble, General Motors and, more recently, Unilever and Coke - they're all saying the old model is broken. It was initially smaller clients saying they wanted to use new ways of communicating but I'm still not sure if tagging media on to creative agencies will solve the problem."

Allnutt agrees that the old model is not the solution. He argues that Naked Inside, though based in the ad agency, is still backed by Naked and is independent of the CHI creative department. "If we disagree (with CHI) and say we should do something that doesn't go down an advertising route, we've got the ability to say this as a purely independent point of view," he says.

Allnutt cites work for The Daily Telegraph and Carphone Warehouse as examples of where media ideas have combined with the creative strategy to create a stronger whole. For Carphone Warehouse, Naked Inside worked with CHI on taking the central idea ("it's a service, not a shop") and amplifying it through the use of media. Instead of running ads last Christmas, it recommended building activity around stores and staff to bring the 500 stores to life through a programme involving elements such as street performance and an enhanced look for each outlet.

But what do creatives who used to work in the full-service model think of the idea of working more closely with media colleagues?

Dave Waters, the joint creative director of DFGW, worked in a full-service environment at Gold Greenlees Trott in the 80s before launching DFGW 15 years ago without a media department.

He argues independent agencies such as his have always used the best media talent around: "Our perspective was not to launch with a media department.

At GGT, with Mike Gold as the media man, we were completely integrated and creative was often dictated by media. Usually, everything went on TV because that's where the media department made its money."

Waters argues creative agencies can now access better media talent and achieve better results than under the full-service model: "We have had a better media service from the independents because they have no axe to grind," he says. "People of the standard of Ivan Pollard (a partner at The Ingram Partnership) or Simon Mathews (a founder of Rise Communications) you'd never get on the business when it was all in-house.

"It has been hugely beneficial for us - it was cumbersome having media in-house. We were able to be more fleet of foot and cherry pick media talent, even down to individuals such as Jonathan Durden (PHD's president) and David Pattison (PHD's chief executive)."

So for Waters, the close working with media agencies never really went away. But some at media agencies definitely feel that it became more difficult to work with creatives at ad agencies once the full-service model broke down.

Mark Holden, PHD's executive planning director, says: "In the past, media agencies have tended to work with an account director or account planning function (at an ad agency). What really makes the difference is media people working closely with creatives."

Holden says there is a definite drive toward this and cites PHD's work with Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO on O2's Big Brother sponsorship as the kind of thing that can be created when creatives and media strategists work together. "This makes work more multidimensional and you can develop really good campaigns," he says.

Or, as Allnutt puts it: "Very simply, if a client can't tell if it's a creative idea or a media idea, you have got something very special. It should be seamless in terms of application, idea and execution."

The key question, though, seems to relate to how prevalent this way of working has become. Is it confined to a couple of ad agencies with media expertise in-house or are most clients now looking to work in this collaborative fashion?

"It's not taking over the industry," Nwosu says. "But some clients want to work in this way. The issue is this whole thing about neutrality - all clients would love to buy into all these people sitting together and developing great ideas."

Bednash, though, feels some cynicism toward growth of media in ad agencies: "The big thing is that it's ad agencies driving this rather than clients." And Holden says at times the tradition that ad agencies develop the creative idea in isolation prevails: "You're not always able to work in this way because the creative agency usually has responsibility for creative work."

So while there has been a positive move involving closer collaboration between creative and media practitioners, some of the barriers still remain and most agree that a return to a full-service model is not desirable.


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