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
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
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.'