Planting media planners in a creative department is not a new idea.
It's already been done with Naked and Clemmow Hornby Inge forming Naked Inside and TBWA\London and Manning Gottlieb OMD starting TBWA\Connections.
But with Project Seed, two very grown-up forces - Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and PHD - are trying it out for themselves. And if they decide this is the way to go, it will undoubtedly have repercussions for the rest of the industry.
Mark Holden, PHD's executive planning director, has a lot riding on his shoulders. Project Seed is testing the waters to see if a productive relationship can be nurtured between media planners and creatives, resulting in better ad campaigns. Holden will sit in AMV's offices for two days a week, advising on media strategy and up to six of PHD's strategic planners could be resident in the agency at any one time. At this stage, there is no formal structure to the venture, but if it proves successful, then something more permanent and accountable may come out of it.
Holden is relieved there is, as yet, no monetary value attached to the venture, otherwise he admits he'd be having sleepless nights. But he is not one to shirk a challenge. After all, he dared to step into the shoes of the golden boy John Harlow, when he took over at Rocket in 2001. And he's since proved his mettle and impressed the likes of the PHD founder and chairman, Jonathan Durden.
"Mark was like me," Durden says. "A potential art director who had turned left instead of right. But finding yourself in the wrong place gives you an advantage. Mark's been able to walk into Rocket and make it into his own image. The people who've worked with him have been very inspired. He has the gravitas, the energy level and can hold his corner."
So why do PHD and AMV feel the need to experiment with a change of approach?
Is this just sexing up something to make clients feel they have a bit more added value? Media veterans tend to agree that media independents have bred a media planner/buyer with an alarming gap in their knowledge.
George Michaelides, a managing partner of Michaelides & Bednash, says: "A generation of media people have grown up not knowing what creative planning is - they've been divorced from the whole process. If I'd grown up in the media industry, all I would know is numbers, so clearly it will have affected your skill-set."
Durden is also concerned about the divide. "Media companies are woefully short in the area of creativity. Not because they don't try, but media companies recruit people who aren't primarily there to be creative, so media people tend to shy away from it. Media companies at the moment are becoming much more procurement-led."
These concerns inevitably lead to the question of are we coming full circle back to full-service agencies? Michaelides observes: "Media independence was a journey, not a destination. For us, it was merely a journey to understand how the world is changing. It does raise the question about whether it is a failed model."
Durden, however, says this does not mean media independents have failed.
"This is not a step to becoming a media department again, because part of our value is neutrality. It's not necessarily about re-absorption back to the good old days. It's about an equal status within agency groups. Media planning needs to be encouraged and appreciated in its own right. It has somehow become shrouded in the whole package."
The idea of media planners sitting with creatives to help give that extra something to a campaign sounds all well and good, but one wonders how receptive creatives are to having a media whiz at their side. Farah Ramzan, the managing director of AMV, says that the success will be down to chemistry, as in any good partnership. "The way to navigate this is that it's all about the people and forming connections, liking each other and working well together."
That's why Holden is the perfect person to steer this new course, Ramzan says. "He's intuitive, a smart creative and he's a dude - he doesn't look out of place here." She also emphasises that it is important not to be heavy-handed with this new approach. "We say 'here's someone who knows a lot of stuff we don't know about, so wouldn't it be good if he was there as the idea is fermenting?' In having discussions much earlier, it is helping with the input and not just coping with the output."
Durden says if this works, PHD will want to do the same thing with other creative agencies. "Our company is about pioneering and stretch," he declares.
"So we will be putting ourselves into uncomfortable positions occasionally. The gamble is that we get more creative as a result, which is a very important component of a media company."
THE HOLDEN FILE
1991: Equinox/ACME (Saatchi & Saatchi), trainee planner
1993: MCS, associate director
1996: BMP, group planning director
2001: Rocket, creative director
2002: PHD, executive planning director