Media Forum: MCHI - a new agency model?

Can new shop MCHI reinvent the full-service offering?

In some quarters of the ad industry, the notion of the full-service agency still exerts a powerful fascination. Full service, as in the whole shooting match - creative people, account handlers and media planners/buyers all sitting within hailing distance of one another.

This yearning isn't the product of some nostalgia for the way things once were but is argued from a conviction that a freer association of disciplines leads to a greater cross-fertilisation of ideas - ultimately producing better advertising.

That's why some hearts may beat faster at the news that CHI & Partners is to launch a full-service agency, called MCHI. A joint venture with WPP's Group M, it's evolved out of an existing unit called CHI & Partners Media, whose managing partners, Tim Allnutt and Enyi Nwosu, will have a leading role alongside senior CHI staff.

The new agency will be responsible for the whole advertising process, including media buying, and it will work on a fee basis rather than commission, guaranteeing media planning neutrality.

Allnutt, an MCHI managing partner, explains: "As CHI has grown over the last few years, we've significantly developed our offering to keep ahead of the changing needs of our clients and media landscape. Today's digitally savvy consumer will navigate their way around a brand's many touchpoints and the brand's big idea must build through each encounter."

So, the new agency will offer the best of both worlds - joined-up thinking and unassailable value for media buying money (thanks to the Group M connection). Could this prove to be a compelling new blueprint for the industry?

Well, perhaps, Colin Gottlieb, the chief executive of Omnicom Media Group EMEA, says. He points out that the advertising business started to become unbundled three decades ago for some very sound business reasons: "People talk about the holistic benefits of a full-service ad agency - but having the media process take place in-house doesn't guarantee that it will happen. That's why it was unbundled in the first place. Even the best full-service agencies in what people think of as the good old days weren't delivering on media. The concept of the full-service agency is brilliant but the execution wasn't always perfect."

Tim Duffy, the chief executive of M&C Saatchi, tends to agree: "Reducing the distance between the creative-stroke-planning process and media has to be good because you're able then to get advertisers close to the issues on the ground where media is concerned. When you do that, you're more likely to get interesting tailored solutions. This (the MCHI initiative) is an interesting model but isn't the only way of achieving that end result. I think we'll see media and creative agencies - not least those owned by the same holding companies - seeking new and innovative ways in which they can work together."

This is a view endorsed by Paul Evans, the media manager EMEA at the FMCG giant Kimberly-Clark. Evans argues that, with strong co-ordination from the client, the current agency model works best: "The existing industry norm of engaging specialist agencies is not broken and ultimately gives advertisers greater flexibility, but there is a responsibility on the client, and agency partners, to drive an inclusive and joined-up approach to developing ideas and solutions."

On the other hand, Greg Grimmer, a partner at Hurrell Moseley Dawson & Grimmer, argues this sort of structure is not new. And HMDG, reconstituted almost a year ago to embrace media, has an offering that's not a million miles away from this. He says: "This, to me, is the next logical step for CHI given the WPP deal (it acquired a 49.9 per cent stake in CHI back in April 2007), which gave CHI access to Group M. For me, this sort of model has always made sense when you don't have the worry factor that you inevitably have when your media partner is owned by a different holding company."

- Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haymarket.com

NO - Colin Gottlieb, chief executive, OMG EMEA

"This is clearly right for CHI. I can certainly see it appealing to certain clients. I think there's room for all sorts of models - but there will be people who look at this pragmatically. I'm not sure it's reinvented the wheel."

MAYBE - Tim Duffy, chief executive, M&C Saatchi

"It's an interesting model - but let's not forget that in the old days, just because media buying was located in creative agencies, it didn't necessarily mean there was joined-up thinking there."

NO - Paul Evans, media manager EMEA, Kimberly-Clark

"The drive towards closer integration of content and context is inevitable. However, the belief that housing media and creative under one roof will achieve this level of integration is probably a false one."

YES - Greg Grimmer, partner, HMDG

"With this structure, you have the ability to educate the brand planning process with comms planning input that will ultimately enhance the creative work as well - and there's more control of the buying side, too. There's less chance that the media plan will be diluted or misinterpreted."

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