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.’