Strategic planning agencies such as Unity and Michaelides & Bednash
must be rubbing their hands with glee as yet another client decides to
split its strategic media planning from its buying.
Last week, the decision to farm out media planning to a specialist
agency came from Carphone Warehouse, an advertiser not best known for
its sophisticated campaigns, but one that believes in making more impact
as its advertising budget grows (Campaign, 10 April).
Carphone Warehouse has followed BT and National Savings which have drawn
up pitch-lists that differentiate media planning and buying.
The cynics who dismissed the birth of M&B in September 1994 as expensive
puffery must be eating their words, as more and more agencies are
spinning off or branding planning units in order to emphasise their
strategic capabilities. Last month, Media-polis launched its own
strategic media operation, Catalyst, while the Media Business,
traditionally seen as a conservative outfit, decided at the beginning of
this year to brand its strategic media arm, Real World Planning.
Universal McCann branded its strategic unit Universal Knowledge in
December, and Unity, which sprang up last June, has already found its
way on to the biggest pitch so far this year, BT’s pounds 150 million
media review. This has to be more than a passing phase.
Derek Morris, a founding partner of Unity, says: ’It’s proof of our
proposition, but can they (media strategy spin-offs from buying
agencies) be effective?
Of course, it depends on the talent within the companies. The advantage
we have is independence. We are independent of the buying agency and
therefore there is no vested interest. It’s more difficult for the
full-service media agency if it plans something the buying side doesn’t
want to produce.’
Morris adds: ’We design the solution and then get the buyer to carry it
through. It’s about empowering the client to understand better and
choose how he makes the media work.’
Unity and M&B fly in the face of consolidated organisations such as the
WPP media operation, MindShare, which trades on its ability to offer a
fully integrated media package. Mandy Pooler, MindShare’s managing
director, says: ’We are turning something fundamental into gobbledegook.
It’s not good to unbundle when everything is pointing towards media
integration. I find it entertaining that clients are willing to pay
extra for something I see as part of a basic service.’
There is a danger that some clients may translate the phenomenon of
unbundling media as the dumbing down of media buying, which is
unrealistic in an age of media fragmentation.
Pooler says: ’Buying is getting smarter. It’s insulting to buyers
because it implies they don’t bring to the party valuable insights that
move the business on. Strategic shops may be architects who can produce
a lovely ceiling, but it’s floating around without pillars.’
For agencies such as Zenith Media, the devaluing of buying could have a
serious impact on status.
Simon Marquis, Zenith’s new managing director who has been brought in to
sharpen up the agency’s strategic planning, argues no aspect of the
media operation can afford to dumb down. ’Buying has become
sophisticated,’ he says.
BT’s shortlist for its strategic planning account comprises a broad
cross-section of media agencies. Unity’s three-man team is competing
against the biggest media agency, Zenith, the strong planning
credentials of New PHD and MGM and the dependable MediaCom. Sholto
Douglas-Home, head of BT advertising, residential division, says: ’It’s
important to have an independent view of the changing media environment
and have strategists who understand media, not just the commercial side
of the business, and can translate commercial objectives into media
Charles Dunstone, managing director of Carphone Warehouse, says he
siphoned off media planning because he wanted an objective view of the
company’s advertising policy. ’We’re an introspective organisation, and
quite insecure in our decision-making, so we must always be thinking
about how we can do things better.’
For Douglas-Home, concern that the advertising process will become even
more removed from media buying, by dividing it between a number of
agencies, is not an issue. Strong in-house media planning at BT helps
co-ordinate and police the advertising process. Dunstone says: ’We pay
for specialists in different areas - this is just another area where we
have a specialist working for us. We’re not a complicated organisation,
so it’s still quite intimate in the way we work.’