Just being asked to do plain old media can be a real relief

'We did a pitch last week. Had to keep the presentation down to 40 minutes. And the client was adamant he was only interested in our media planning and buying capabilities.' Yeah, yeah. I knew what was coming next, writes Claire Beale.

You don't sit through umpteen presentations about media agencies' expertise in direct marketing, public relations, event sponsorship, product placement and shelf wobblers to know that a pitch requiring simply planning and buying is an affront to the inexorable march of media to the top table.

So I braced myself for all that stuff about ignorant clients who wouldn't know a good media agency unless John Billett had written it on a Powerpoint chart and charged rather handsomely for the unique insight. But that stuff didn't come. "What a relief," my source confided. "A client who knows exactly what he wants. And it means we don't have to pretend to be experts in something that, frankly, we're not. We can just concentrate on what we're good at."

I wonder how many agencies are secretly very happy to find a client who just wants some bloody good media planning and buying. Probably quite a few of the ones that try so desperately to convince the world that a handful of rather over-achieving media planners have unlocked the secrets of, oh, at least half a dozen other marketing services sectors and between them offer the combined wisdom of entire billion-pound industries. Because isn't that what you're supposed to offer to compete in media these days? And I wonder how many savvy clients are brave enough to admit that great planning and buying is exactly, and only, what they (sometimes) want.

There are a few solid conclusions to be drawn from this pitch example. First, whichever agency finally wins this business can sit happy in the knowledge that it's been appointed on sound (measurable) criteria: to deliver on its strong core media proposition. Had the client been looking for a sparkly Catherine Wheel of communications tricks then, once he'd seen the dazzling display (or been given that promotion he's been angling for), he'd quite probably be off to check out another media show (just ask some of the strategic communications companies, who all too often suffer from a revolving door of new business).

But does this mean that our client will be missing out on all that lovely media neutral planning (MNP) everyone gets so excited about these days? Not necessarily. Surely, MNP is in essence a mindset, an openness and a willingness to collaborate across disciplines and across companies. It can not be -- in any meaningful, workable way -- about offering expertise in everything all under one roof (especially not a roof that also houses a rather expensive broadcast department that needs to justify its existence). I predict one fruitful agency/client relationship is about to be born.

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