Media Forum: Is creativity flourishing?

Has the recession led to greater creativity in media, Alasdair Reid asks.

Philippa Brown, the chief executive of Omnicom Media Group and chair of this year's Campaign Media Awards jury, said in her introduction to the Campaign Media Awards book of the night that creative thinking in the media industry has never been more impressive. And, yes, she's aware there's a potential paradox here.

"Crises provide us with the chance to choose between inertia and innovation. Think Apple. Think John Galliano. Think the birth of the soap opera," she urges.

We're not entirely sure all three of these examples resonate with us, not being entirely au fait with the vagaries of the fashion world, but there are clear parallels to be drawn between the spirit behind the invention of the radio soap opera in the US in 1937 and the spirit the industry needs now to face up to a similarly debilitating slump.

But is she right - or are these merely fine words designed to keep our collective pecker up? After all, in recent weeks, we've been hearing all sorts of alarming reports about the extent to which clients have been turning the screw on their media agencies, putting business up for repitch in an effort to achieve ever greater economies from their media spend. That in turn continues to put media owners under ever-greater pressure.

Not the general environment, you might suggest, in which there is much hope for creative thinking. Well, Dave King, the executive director of Telegraph Media Group, disagrees. He says: "The recession can only claim to have amplified the need for and volume of creativity. The triumvirate of client, agency and media owner will nearly always produce the best creative media solutions - each bringing their specialism and resource to deliver great value."

He adds: "There are a few other contributory factors - marketing directors needing to show value and exceptional work to justify marketing spends, agencies needing to deliver the above to their clients, and media owners needing to find new revenue streams. Whichever way you look at it, the result is the same - better media creative solutions than ever before."

And Stuart Sullivan-Martin, the chief strategy officer of Media-edge:cia, argues that, actually, media agencies are in quite a privileged position - and there are great opportunities to be grabbed.

He explains: "Media agencies know that clients would quickly become disillusioned if they weren't continually evolving their strategic input. So high-level strategic thinking is almost a hygiene factor these days - and for media agencies the opportunities are there to integrate their expertise, across a range of disciplines, with partner agencies. There is every indication that good agencies are grabbing those opportunities. Now, more than ever, there's a sense that we're all in this together."

Absolutely, Sue Unerman, the chief strategy officer at MediaCom, agrees. She says: "It's almost counter-intuitive - with conventional advertising opportunities so cheap, you'd think there might be a focus on that side of things again. Instead, we're continuing to see a fundamental change in the marketplace.

"It's about social media and Twitter, it's about how you get people to talk about the brand in a positive way. And an equally important part of that shift is the fact that accountability has been keeping pace. If the accountability hadn't been there, it would have been easier for people to say 'let's just go back to buying ad space'."

Derek Morris, the chairman of ZenithOptimedia, agrees - although he warns that the industry as a whole can't rest on its laurels. He concludes: "Creative thinking should never be allowed to become dislocated from strategy - if it does, then you default to the stunt. Ideas need specific project management skills to protect them and make them happen. If the creative thinking creates value, then it deserves to be paid for and not devalued by being given away for free."

YES - Dave King, executive director, Telegraph Media Group

"Some argue that these tough times have demanded greater creativity. Telegraph Media Group has put creativity across the business as a whole as a top priority for the past five years."

YES - Stuart Sullivan-Martin, chief strategy officer, Mediaedge:cia

"Agencies had expertise, not just ideas related to channels but creative ideas and content and ideas related to insight. The better agencies are integrating those skills with partner agencies."

YES - Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer, MediaCom

"Business has been shifting from the world of advertising to the world of communications in the broadest sense. These days the start point is just as likely to be content that may or may not include advertising."

YES - Derek Morris, chairman, Zenith-Optimedia

"Creativity in media has never been better but I don't believe it is linked to recession. It is about possibilities, rather than necessity being the mother of invention. Good work leads to good work as the momentum builds in agencies and media owners."

- Got a view? E-mail us at