MEDIA FORUM: Why successful DM ventures elude media players Zenith's and BBJ's recent forays into direct marketing highlight the lack of coherence in the media world when it comes to developing a quality below-the-line service. And as agen

It used to be simple. Offering a direct marketing capability within media agencies was simply a question of finding someone who had worked on the Franklin Mint or equivalent account, giving them a desk in the corner and printing up some new business cards. But if paying that sort of lip service was ever considered acceptable, it no longer is today.

It used to be simple. Offering a direct marketing capability within

media agencies was simply a question of finding someone who had worked

on the Franklin Mint or equivalent account, giving them a desk in the

corner and printing up some new business cards. But if paying that sort

of lip service was ever considered acceptable, it no longer is


If all the restructurings, joint ventures and false starts of the past

few years have taught us anything, it's that direct marketing is a

difficult skill for media companies to master. Unfortunately, though,

it's also essential for any media player that has pretensions to a truly

integrated approach. Worse still, there is no blueprint to follow

because the rules are constantly being rewritten.

Two weeks ago, Zenith Media unveiled plans for a separate media agency

to take its below-the-line offering further than Zenith Direct ever

could. Called Zed, it is a 20-strong joint venture with the direct

marketing agency, DP&A. A week later, BBJ Media Services was offering

its vision of the direct marketing future. Its new in-house venture is

to be jointly headed by the agency's direct marketing expert, Karen Lee,

and by Sharon Lang, the co-founder of Mansfield Lang Direct Media. But

how important is the structure of these new direct offerings?

The bad news for both new ventures, at least according to Mark

Williamson, the marketing director at Britannia Music, is that in the

grand scheme of things it's not too important. 'The choice of a direct

marketing agency has to be one of substance, not structure. Just calling

a department something doesn't of itself give you the buying skills or

direct marketing expertise that you want and there is no point

pretending that it does. If they try to pretend they have this expertise

simply by setting up a different, standalone direct marketing operation

with a fancy new name, the fact remains that this is not really going to

make any difference to me or to our advertising. We want real value, not

fancy names or expensive rebrandings.

Clients want to see value for money in their marketing.

'We don't use ad agencies because we don't want to pay for their

champagne lunches but we use two direct marketing media shops, Carat

Direct and MediaVest Direct. The way they are structured is a big part

of their appeal.

What I like is that they set out their stall to clients in a

straight-forward manner. They are both part of big agencies with a

number of specialities, one of which is direct marketing. And that, to

me, is the most important consideration when you look at how agencies

structure their operations.'

Jeff Hyams, the managing director of Zed Media, agrees the issue should

be one of substance. 'We wanted to make a major step change in the

market, to almost redefine it by bringing together a unique blend of

specialist media and DM skills into one company. It also needed to be a

standalone, commercially successful business in its own right as well as

serving the DM needs of its partners, Zenith and DP&A. Remember, direct

media doesn't just cover DRTV and ads with coupons. It covers all of

this and more; the whole area of data planning and data broking requires

specialist skills but will also impact on the media strategy.

'To cover this properly requires a long-term approach and real


An in-house team or unit runs the risk of becoming a ghetto or even

worse - an exercise in smoke and mirrors while lacking real investment

and resource.

This current dilemma for media agencies has been faced by advertising

agencies in the very recent past and most of them fudged it. Many

thought an integrated capability meant hiring an in-house expert and

adding a telephone number to the odd commercial. Clients saw through it

and either stayed with their specialists or searched out the truly

integrated. The same challenge is now being laid down to media

companies; it's vital not to make the same mistakes.'

BBJ's direct marketing chief, Karen Lee, not surprisingly reaches a

similar conclusion. 'Today, forward-thinking clients do not divide their

marketing departments between brand awareness and direct response

disciplines. At BBJ, we believe their agencies need to reflect this

change. That is why we have deliberately not launched a separate direct

marketing unit but integrated our direct marketing capability into the

rest of the agency.

'As we move into the customer-focused, interactive age, the

brand/customer interface will take many forms. Brand owners will need to

be able to achieve tight integration across all media to avoid image

fragmentation. Equally, as customers demand direct access to their

chosen brands, companies will need to offer immediate access through

customer-specified communication channels.

'Clients will have to consider the whole media spectrum and to allocate

roles for each medium within this changing marketplace. They will

consider everything from TV to direct mail, sponsorship to the internet,

as part of the media mix. Agencies will require specialists in all media

disciplines to work closely together to deliver the correct

communication mix.'

Watching from the sidelines, Mike Colling, the managing director of WWAV

Media, seems to enjoy the confusion. 'I'm thrilled whenever the

speciality of direct media is recognised. When I moved to a direct

marketing agency six years ago, my colleagues said that I was barmy

because any media independent could do direct response planning and

buying. Over the past five years it has been very flattering to

recognise that specialist skills are acknowledged.

'Like DM creative agencies, DR planning and buying needs to be totally

focused. You can't do it by sticking a band-aid over your problems. The

ones setting up proper standalone companies are doing so on a small


What BBJ and Zed will find, I'm sure, is that they are merely educating

clients in the art of the possible in direct response media.

As clients learn more, so they will demand more - and that's where we

come in. In fact, this could be the best new-business initiative I've

come across for years.'


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