FORUM: Media displaces creative in the integrity stakes - According to a Media Audits survey published last week, clients trust media specialists more than creative agencies - and see them as offering better value. This is good news for a sector keen to e

They used to say that, if you had any sense, you’d count your fingers after you’d shaken hands with a media buyer. Clients were well aware that, in a game of brinkmanship and sharp practice, these people - gamekeepers to media owner poachers - may have been on their side but they still needed watching.

They used to say that, if you had any sense, you’d count your

fingers after you’d shaken hands with a media buyer. Clients were well

aware that, in a game of brinkmanship and sharp practice, these people -

gamekeepers to media owner poachers - may have been on their side but

they still needed watching.

Creative agencies, on the other hand, may traditionally have been the

last refuge of scoundrels and loveable rogues, but they were considered

to be honest with it. Creativity always has its price and if agencies

were sometimes naive, they were never disingenuous. When it came to

integrity and professionalism, they were streets ahead.

No longer. According to a study published by Media Audits last week,

media agencies are now considered to be more honourable and professional

than creative agencies. They are also perceived to provide better value

for money. But that’s what a survey from a media auditing company would

say, wouldn’t it?

Well ... no, not exactly. Media auditors are firmly on the side of

clients and are often feared by media specialists. And this survey in

particular draws on the views of 60 advertisers, accounting for billings

worth pounds 750 million. Asked to give suppliers scores out of six for

professionalism and integrity, the advertisers gave media agencies an

average score of 4.7, compared to creative agencies in second place with

4.4. Other sectors, like public relations, direct marketing and sales

promotion, all scored less than four.

This is welcome news for a sector that believes it can build an ever

more central role within advertisers’ agency rosters. Media agencies

have started to argue that the quality of their thinking is of a higher

order than that commonly found in creative agencies. And, after all,

they know more about creative issues than creative agencies know about

media. For instance, how many creative agencies went to the recent

Barcelona TV conference?

Should creative agencies be genuinely worried about this sort of


Lynda Graham, the managing director of Media Audits, admits she was

surprised that media companies came top. She states: ’Having said that,

I’m sure that the nature of media lends itself to this. It is about

numbers and involves the handling of large sums of money.’

But isn’t Media Audits in business precisely because advertisers had

doubts about what their media specialists were really up to when their

backs were turned? Not exactly, Graham says. It’s more to do with

clients seeking an independent measure of value. It is not about trust.

’I agree that the real issue here is very much about media companies

moving up the food chain. Since letting go of their media departments,

creative agencies have lost influence in key areas of the business.

Media agencies have been taking the high ground. Creative agencies have

been putting themselves into smaller and smaller boxes.’

If we’re talking boxes, this kind of survey could start sealing the


But Paul Hammersley, the managing director of Lowe Howard-Spink, says

he’s neither alarmed nor surprised at these findings. ’When you ask

questions like this, subjectivity is taken out of the equation. Media

specialists are not subject to the vagaries of the communications

process. It’s easier for them to prove that what they’ve done is right

and successful. That doesn’t mean they can easily take the mantle of

brand strategist.’

Hammersley admits that media agencies have every right to use this sort

of survey to keep chipping away at the position of mainstream creative

agencies. If he were in their shoes, he’d do the same. He implies,

though, that they still have a lot of work to do. ’Agencies must do

whatever they can to ensure they are not excluded from those

conversations with clients. We have to defend our right to participate -

but this has to be seen as part of a wider argument about the

integration of strategic communications. It’s not just about creative

versus media.’

Someone with an almost unique perspective is Richard Burdett, the

vice-chairman of CIA Medianetwork. He had spells as an account man with

both Saatchi & Saatchi and Grey before becoming the marketing director

of a media owner, Flextech. He believes the Media Audits findings

reflect the dramatic shifts that have taken place in the industry in

recent years. ’The revolution in media and how best to exploit it are

critical issues for advertisers. By definition, this has helped move

media owners further up the food chain in terms of where clients seek

strategic advice.

’Because we work so closely with media owners, media agencies have been

well positioned to understand what is going on and to interpret it for

our clients. We’ve embraced change rather than ignore it. At the same

time, media agencies are learning to combine their traditional skills of

robust analysis and negotiation with much greater levels of intuition

and creativity. It’s a potent combination.’

In short, then, depressing news for creative agencies. ’Not really,’

Ross Barr, the joint managing director of BMP DDB, says. ’You forget we

have media people upstairs. The good score pleases them - and they do

have the advantage in terms of the simplicity, accountability and

transparency of what they do. To be honest, I think the creative agency

score is pretty good too. It would be interesting to speculate on what

other professions - like law or accountancy - would get. We certainly

shouldn’t be compared with media - it’s not comparing like with like. We

should be compared to other creative sectors like design. Creativity is

more fogged by the fact of its lack of scientific process.’

But what about the leverage this gives media companies in building

’first point of contact’ relationships with clients? Barr responds: ’I

don’t see it that way. Media is a different sort of relationship to the

one that agencies have. I can see it happening in new media areas where

media companies can have a say in all sorts of issues including

creative. But that’s an area where the pie is getting bigger and there

will be enough for everyone. It’s not a problem.’


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