MEDIA FORUM: Owens’ start-up offers an object lesson in media Dominic Owens’ new media start-up will sell itself on its ability to offer objective media advice. The implication is that clients routinely get advice that benefits planners an

You could argue that this isn’t the best time to launch a new media specialist and it certainly isn’t a good time to introduce a supposedly revolutionary new concept in planning and buying. But just try telling that to the former BT marketing man, Dominic Owens, Carat’s head of planning, Simon King, and Simon Calvert from Carat Insight.

You could argue that this isn’t the best time to launch a new media

specialist and it certainly isn’t a good time to introduce a supposedly

revolutionary new concept in planning and buying. But just try telling

that to the former BT marketing man, Dominic Owens, Carat’s head of

planning, Simon King, and Simon Calvert from Carat Insight.

Last week, they joined forces to launch not just a media start-up but a

big idea. Its mission statement is about giving clients genuinely

independent advice on how to spend their communications budgets. And the

reason it can offer this genuinely independent advice is because it will

have no vested interests. Implying, of course, that vested interests

have a significant role to play in the market at present.

It will work with a network of supply companies in areas including

above-the-line creative, media buying and direct marketing. These

suppliers will be ’preferred partners’ but the new outfit will not have

financial links with any of them.

It sounds like a lot of wheels that have been invented before. Wasn’t

objectivity one of the rallying cries of the first wave of media

independents? And, later, of strategic planning specialists?

On the other hand, the product of all revolutions tends eventually to

resemble what went before. A couple of years back, the planning director

of one of the UK’s top media specialists was asked to resign when,

following a thorough review of a client’s communications strategy, he

recommended in an internal document that the client should spend the

next year focusing on public relations. There’s uncompromising integrity

and there’s professional suicide - as the client didn’t say when he

found out the whole story.

Perhaps vested interests of one sort or another are endemic. For

instance, if you have the biggest television buying department in town,

that becomes one hell of an overhead if your planning team starts

steering people away from TV.

But isn’t this hard to believe in such a grown-up, much-analysed and

audited business like media planning and buying? Are clients ever pushed

towards certain media for the wrong reasons? John Blakemore, the UK

advertising director of SmithKline Beecham, doesn’t believe they


He comments: ’This is a fear and concern I understand but it’s not one I

necessarily share. That doesn’t mean it’s not a genuine concern. It

keeps coming back to the principle of whether the advertiser understands

media. We all fear what we don’t understand and whether this is a play

on people’s fears or a real issue is perhaps not important. One way or

another, it may well be a viable proposition to exploit in the


Of course, not every company is lucky to have a poacher turned

gamekeeper of Blakemore’s calibre on the books. But others share his


Ken New, the chairman of New PHD, points out that this is not a new


He adds: ’If you are not completely objective as a media company, you

are simply not doing your job properly. A decade ago, when most media

operations were the media departments of advertising agencies, the

obligation was merely to showcase the advertising. There is still that

obligation, of course, but the brief is now beyond the conventions of

spots and space.

’Any company can come along and offer an independent service but nine

out of ten offer that already. It’s one of the obligations. If you don’t

offer that, you really don’t have a chance. So I’m not sure that

objectivity is enough on its own. Owens can offer much more, though,

because of his background. He has come through the ranks of marketing,

not media, and so has a different perspective. He brings to the party a

broad base of communications expertise. That is what he should be


And New PHD is not alone in pointing out that remun-eration is

increasingly fee-based these days. That takes potential abuses of the

commission system out of the equation altogether.

Paul Taylor, the managing director of BMP Optimum, says no-one can

afford to be complacent but objectivity shouldn’t be seen as an issue.

’Advertisers wouldn’t be with us if they had any anxieties on that

score. There is no definitive way to navigate the mass of available

communications options. It must start at an understanding of the

consumer and that should be applied through an appreciation of the

market and what is available.’

However, there is a cloud on the horizon - not all clients are as

relaxed about this issue as media companies would have you believe.

Patrick Burton, the vice-president of media and brand communications at

Allied Domecq, reveals that the issue has been exercising his mind

recently. ’If you are cynical, you have to ask if advice is going to be

independent when it is given by companies that make their money from

booking mainstream media. To counter that, you would have to find ways

of remunerating agencies that don’t have particular types of outcome

when they make their media choices.’

But surely clients are to blame for squeezing the margins of their media

companies so effectively? And, in turn, wasn’t this why auditors became

such a fixture in the media business?

Burton concedes the first point. ’We might be saving a certain

percentage on the margin of media specialists these days, but we lose it

again because we might not be getting the best advice. So yes, we’ve

brought it on ourselves to a certain extent. And I’m not sure the

argument about auditors is relevant.

’As one of our finance people here pointed out a while ago, if auditors

ever found any irregularities at our media company, we would have to

sack the media company for incompetence, not dishonesty. It isn’t hard

to hide things.

’I believe that someone like Owens, with his background, is potentially

on to a winner. I may be tempted to pick up the phone and have a chat.

After all, I’d have nothing to lose.’


Become a member of Campaign

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a member

What is Campaign AI?

Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company.

Find out more

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content