MEDIA FORUM: New agencies claim to remake the media model - Is the launch of Naked proof that there really is a fourth wave? Is this evidence that media is claiming its rightful place further up. the communications ladder, Alasdair Reid asks

When John Harlow arrived to breathe fresh inspiration into Rocket in 1997, the agency was repositioned as a ’third wave’ media agency. If waves stand for the emergence of groups of new agencies in a given period of time, wave one was presumably about the independent media buying company; wave two the evolution of planning and buying specialists while wave three was all about media strategy. So when Harlow announced last week that he was leaving to launch an agency called Naked Communications, the move perhaps confirmed what many in the industry have long suspected - we now have a fourth wave.

When John Harlow arrived to breathe fresh inspiration into Rocket

in 1997, the agency was repositioned as a ’third wave’ media agency. If

waves stand for the emergence of groups of new agencies in a given

period of time, wave one was presumably about the independent media

buying company; wave two the evolution of planning and buying

specialists while wave three was all about media strategy. So when

Harlow announced last week that he was leaving to launch an agency

called Naked Communications, the move perhaps confirmed what many in the

industry have long suspected - we now have a fourth wave.



Joining Harlow at Naked are two senior movers and shakers at Rocket’s

sister agency, New PHD - the joint managing director Jon Wilkins and its

director of strategic services, Will Collin. As a brand communications

consultancy, Naked will inevitably be pigeonholed alongside the likes of

Michaelides & Bednash, Unity and Bridgeworks - agenda-setting companies

that exist to deconstruct any remaining assumptions we have about the

who, the where and the how of the marketing communications process.



The fundamental principle underlying the fourth wave is that in an

increasingly complex, information-saturated world, media comes first.

The medium has become the message; where you are seen says just as much

about you as the content of your message. So a brand communications

consultancy is ideally placed to drive the whole process, making

judgments that affect the mix of other suppliers - such as creative

agencies - that you use.



The previous waves merely sought to make the best of an accepted

model.



The fourth wave wants to blow the model apart and then piece it together

again more thoughtfully. That’s the theory at any rate. The cynics - and

there are one or two in the full-service media providers - say that this

is only so much smoke and mirrors.



These cynics add that fourth wave companies are defined by what they

can’t do. They can’t, for instance, buy media. They’re not actually

engaging with the rough and tumble of the market. And they’re actually

removed not just from the media arena but from the marketing services

community.



Look at Bridgeworks, for instance - it found things too lonely out there

and has decided that its future was best secured by selling out to HHCL

& Partners.



Do the cynics have a point? Naturally, Will Collin doesn’t think so:

’Does anyone really believe that the way the advertising process is

currently configured is as good as it could be? Is it right that media

people can buy space without knowing what’s going in there or for

creative people to have little conception of the clever and creative

things you can do in media? We believe that, with advertising coming out

of our ears these days, you have to choose what you’re going to say at

the same time as you choose where you’re going to say it. We also

believe that all kinds of skills are needed for most clients’

communications solutions. Naked is a new entry point into the

communications process and we will have a flexible approach - we will

work with a client’s existing agencies or we can act as the front end

and help them to tap into our portfolio of partners.’



Collin argues that even the most conservative clients are putting more

innovative approaches on the agenda and he’s also pretty comfortable

with the fourth wave tag - as long as we appreciate that Naked is at its

leading edge.



For Graham Bednash, a founding partner of Michaelides & Bednash, Naked

is confirmation that the market has moved on. He states: ’What we are

about is brand strategy and creativity - it’s about delivering brand

ideas, not just about delivering media that enhances the creative work.

It’s much more than coming up with clever ways of doing conventional

media.



We definitely see media increasingly driving the whole communications

process and to be involved in this area you have to have the skills to

be able to base your company on ideas, rather than processes. These

people are prepared for that and I think they’ll find it liberating

striking out on their own. It’s not easy but the fact is that,

increasingly, the client community is coming to us. They’re looking for

innovative ways to do things.’



Ironically, there’s perhaps a ’back to the future’ aspect to all

this.



Thinking about the what at the same time as the where was the core

strength of those old-fashioned full-service agency thingies. The

world’s too fragmented now to expect everyone to cram together under the

same roof. But if the fourth wave is about anything it is a greater

creative/media detente.



One agency to have addressed this in a slightly different way is Booth

Lockett Makin, which recently launched @The Hub, a client-specific

’virtual’ full-service offering in partnership with TBWA GGT Simons

Palmer, which will see creative and media people working on the same

account out of the same office.



But founding partner Steve Booth points out that @The Hub is very much

part of the BLM family of media offerings - and is all the stronger for

being part of a culture that embraces the whole media spectrum, from

strategy to buying. He’s sceptical about this fourth wave too. He

comments: ’After a barren patch for launches, it’s great to see a media

start-up born of talent and vision. It brings into focus the fact that

media is outgrowing the confines of ownership by advertising-dominated

companies, in this case Omnicom. At the same time it shows that the era

when you could see the launch of fully fledged media independents -

those offering a broad range of integrated services - is over. There is

a cost barrier to entry. This in itself determines the style of agency

that entrepreneurial, media-based operators have to establish if they

want to launch something.’



Ivan Pollard, a founding partner of Unity, doesn’t quite see it in those

terms. He states: ’We welcome this - it adds just that little bit more

momentum behind a ball that Michaelides & Bednash started rolling and it

confirms what we’ve been doing. The more people who talk this game, the

better it is for all of us and the truth is that the market is

increasingly receptive to this. It’s not for everyone and it doesn’t

happen every time but it’s the way to go when connection to the consumer

is absolutely central to what you’re trying to achieve. I think the

creative community understands what this is about and appreciates that

we’re not trying to reduce them to being merely the vendors of TV

commercials. As for clients, convincing them isn’t hard, especially if

you do it honestly and are sensitive to the needs of their business.’



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