FORUM: Can a joint venture offer good strategic planning? - Last week, New PHD and Partners BDDH created the first joint venture strategic planning unit. Is this an inspired move? Will it finally settle all those debates about how and where strategic plan

They like their degrees, those people at New PHD. Not content with their doctorate in philosophy, last week they went out and acquired an MSc. Are they trying to tell us they’re brainy, or what? All they need to do now is poach Phil Georgiadis from Initiative and set up an operating unit for him to run - called DPhil, of course - and then they’d have the set.

They like their degrees, those people at New PHD. Not content with

their doctorate in philosophy, last week they went out and acquired an

MSc. Are they trying to tell us they’re brainy, or what? All they need

to do now is poach Phil Georgiadis from Initiative and set up an

operating unit for him to run - called DPhil, of course - and then

they’d have the set.



MSc is actually short for Media Science, the joint venture New PHD set

up last week with Partners BDDH and the latest permutation in the

evolution of strategic media planning. In the early days, creative

agencies tended to talk a good game and managed to keep some form of

media communications guru on the premises somewhere.



Then the specialists woke up and started hiring their own gurus. Stage

three was the advent of strategic media planning specialists such as

Michaelides & Bednash. Now we are on to stage four and the ultimate

sophistication - the first hybrid that can pretend it subsumes each and

every one of the previous stages.



Hybrid or mongrel? MSc will be based on BDDH’s premises but will be a

standalone company in the sense that it will be a separate profit

centre.



It will also, for the time being, be a one-client operation.



In fact, the client in question appears to have had a significant role

in its creation. Mercedes, which handed its creative account to Partners

BDDH in January, recently put its pounds 10 million media planning and

buying account up for review. BDDH put it to the client that strategic

planning should best sit alongside account planning. According to one

Mercedes source, ’it was the right opportunity at the right time’. The

company has now amended its media review, which will be a buying-only

pitch.



Is this an elegant solution to a perennial problem? Or an opportunistic

ambush of the Mercedes media pitch? Is it a blueprint that other

creative agencies should think of following? Or are there as many flaws

in this structure as there are in other media planning solutions? Won’t

there, for instance, be friction between MSc and whichever buying agency

Mercedes chooses to appoint?



Nigel Long, the chief executive of Partners BDDH, says not. ’Of course,

we will have to feel our way,’ he admits. ’We will have to be very clear

about where the planning brief begins and ends.’



But why the joint venture? Couldn’t they just hire their own

expertise?



Not really, Long says. He adds: ’We want the most experienced people and

also access to research. MSc, because of the skills, background and

personal approach of the partners at PHD, will attract the best in the

business.



And it will help to plug in to the market intelligence a big buying

point offers.



’A joint venture was the best way forward. We could have done other

things on a short-term basis but we didn’t want merely to have a loose

arrangement with a specialist and have someone here on what would amount

to a secondment. We believe this is a bigger idea. We see this as a way

of building a business, a powerful pitch tool.’



Are other creative agencies ready to be convinced by this particular

approach? Michael Finn, the managing director of Duckworth Finn Grubb

Waters, likes the idea in principle. ’We have had similar discussions

with media players, including PHD, on something similar. Although media

isn’t up for grabs on the pitch-lists that agencies like us get on, we

are up against agencies that have media information. So it would be a

benefit in new-business pitches,’ he admits.



He concedes that it’s a better solution than trying to employ planning

expertise directly at the creative agency. But he can foresee many

potential difficulties. A standalone joint venture might be considered a

bit of a backwater - not a good career prospect for top talent. ’I don’t

think there would be demarcation problems between it and the buying

agency,’ he adds. ’That’s the easy bit. But how does it get financed?

Are the creative agency’s margins cut?



Or, as tends to be the case at the moment, is it financed at the expense

of the buying shop?’



According to Paul Bainsfair, the joint chief executive of BST-BDDP, the

new initiative could be a signal that things are coming full circle. But

he advises against reading too much into it. ’It has always been the

view of most full-service and creative agencies that media is an

integral part of advertising, not a separate discipline. Where MSc is

concerned, however, are they saying they have a genuine belief about

this route? It looks rather like opportunism to me.



’As an agency we have a direct involvement in media planning - on our

accounts there are three or four people with good minds and strong views

when it comes to media. There is no demarcation and I think it is wrong

to create any. The good ideas can come from anybody. It is wrong to try

to locate media ideas in any one place.’



Robert Campbell, a creative partner at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe,

also harbours doubts. ’I regret that I am not a media man - it’s the

most interesting part of the business now. Creatively, it is the most

powerful canvas we have to experiment on these days and I sometimes wish

the whole business would realise that. Pictures, words and media must

work as a whole - as I think it did on our ’Miller Time’ campaign.



Its power derived from the fact it was a strong media idea.



’We work closely with media people who look at things qualitatively and

understand the effects media has. You can take an idea and check it out

with media people. And in an ideal world I would be very interested in

having media people around who could keep asking, ’Have you thought of

this?’ But you don’t necessarily need them in-house - having them on the

other end of the phone doesn’t matter too much if they are the right

media people. They don’t need to be on site.’



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