Leagas Delaney is to ‘outsource’ its TV buying. Because it retains
control of planning, it says that the media service it offers clients is
largely unaffected. Brave rhetoric? Or a fundamental truth? And is the
agency right that even medium-sized media operations will soon be edged
out of the TV market?
Another full-service agency bites the dust. Leagas Delaney may beg to
differ, but when an agency is no longer able to buy its own TV airtime,
then it’s not really a full-service operation by any conventional
understanding of the term.
Last week, it decided to hand over TV buying responsibilities to Abbott
Mead Vickers BBDO, its parent agency. Leagas Delaney obviously believes
that TV buying is a business that only the very biggest operations can
afford to be in. It predicts that by the end of the decade there could
be only six buying points in the UK TV market. That in itself is an
alarming prospect. When the buying circle becomes that exclusive, then
the buyers will start acting more like sales points - after all, that’s
how advertising agencies came into being in the first place.
Leagas Delaney argues that combining its billings with Abbott Mead’s
will give the clients of both agencies more clout in the TV market. More
clout leads to cheaper airtime as negotiations become ever more
dominated by volume discounts.
Strangely, though, Leagas Delaney maintains that the move - it refers to
it as an ‘outsourcing’ of TV buying - will not materially affect its
media service. It still wants to be regarded as a full-service agency,
insisting that full service is about the control that the creative
source has over the media placement. This, the agency argues, will not
Television planning and buying is the most complex, and arguably the
most important, function undertaken by a media operation. Can agencies
that ‘outsource’ the buying function still maintain that they’re in
Jerry Fielder, the chairman and media director of Leagas Delaney, thinks
so. ‘I think it’s clear that the TV market will become entirely
commodity driven, which means that scale will become the key
discriminator,’ he says. ‘It became clear to me that we had to protect
our clients from those market forces. We could have continued as we were
for at least the next couple of years, but we decided to be proactive
and reap the benefits as early as we could.
‘It is no secret that I have always been an advocate of full service and
of bespoke solutions to advertising problems. But that doesn’t
necessarily mean that the creative and media people actually have to sit
in close proximity to each other. The key issue is that there is
genuinely some form of synergy between creative and media minds. Abbott
Mead is the best fit I can possibly find. We can gain access to its
scale and we can use it as an extension of our media department.
‘And I’m not sure that clients are all that concerned with structural
details - what they will be asking is whether we are delivering more
Steve Platt, the sales director of Carlton UK Sales, agrees that it can
be done, as long as the planning people have a suitable level of contact
with the client and a good relationship with the buyer. ‘I can’t see any
reason why the agency with the planning can’t keep control of the total
media plan,’ he asserts. ‘In fact, there may be advantages - you now
have two sets of people who can come up with ideas and spot
But Platt disagrees with the proposition that there will be no future
role for smaller buying operations. ‘Size does have its advantages,’ he
admits, ‘but I’ve always maintained that good buying was all about the
proposition that you put forward. An agency with smaller billings can
always get as good an end result as the big guns by being clever.’
George Michaelides, the managing partner of Michaelides and Bednash,
specialises in strategic media planning, working alongside Howell Henry
Chaldecott Lury’s creative work and the Media Business’s media buying.
Michaelides says it works well: ‘This will increasingly happen as people
specialise on the buying side and buying becomes even more commoditised.
Strategy is where the real control lies,’ he states.
And he doesn’t believe that splitting the process causes any problems.
‘All our clients are audited by independent auditors and that ensures
that the buying company delivers what we asked for and that it is bought
competitively,’ he says. ‘And it is not as if we are totally removed
from the marketplace - we have our own nous too and are aware of
opportunities in the market.
‘These days, some independents say they need the planning to be able to
handle the buying, but few people ask them if they are any good at it.
Most independents were originally set up as buying shops and they don’t
really have a track record in planning, no matter what they try to
Nick Manning, the managing partner of Manning Gottlieb Media, is less
sure. MGM benefits from Carat Group ‘umbrella’ negotiations on discounts
but retains full in-house control of day-to-day planning and buying.
‘Jerry Fielder is one of the shrewdest men in the business, so his
decision commands respect. However, this path is fraught with
difficulties,’ Manning maintains.
‘It’s untrue to say that buying has become a commodity business. To an
extent, the negotiation process has become commodity-orientated because
deals are more likely to be done on an agency rather than a client
basis. But this is precisely why buying - as opposed to negotiation -
cannot be allowed to go the same way.’
Manning points out that, these days, a deal with a sales point is only a
framework guarantee of price and airtime quality. Within that framework,
buyers still have to use their skills to deliver the right programming
needed by individual brands.
‘The further away from the brand that buyers sit, the less likely they
are to understand the brand’s needs,’ he adds. ‘A good buyer who is
immersed in the brand and accountable to the client can make the
difference between success and failure, almost irrespective of the deal.
These days, you have to be part of a bigger negotiation game, but
ultimate control over the buying process is just as important.’