MEDIA GOES HOME: Separating media from creative heralded the end of the full-service agency

Separating media from creative heralded the end of the full-service agency, but now many ad agencies are putting media back at the heart of their offering, writes Ian Darby.

It used to be so easy to get your message out to consumers. The agency would create its 30 seconds of genius (the bit of the process where all the care and attention was lavished) and then the media department would get it on the telly.

Then media moved up the food chain as full-service agencies unravelled and the media specialists were unleashed. Advertisers knew that media planning and buying was a vital part of the process but this estrangement of media and creative meant that understanding was lost.

But now this picture is changing. Although Bates UK appointed its media director Kathy Jones from IPC as long ago as 1989, most creative agencies have waited until now to become more engaged in the media and communications planning debate with clients.

For instance, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy appointed the former Starcom director Hal Pearson as its media director last year, while Soul launched with Kevin Brown, also a Starcom director, as a founding partner. Last year, Publicis hired Unity's Derek Morris - now its joint chief executive - to help the agency think more broadly. More recently, Clemmow Hornby Inge linked with Naked Communications to launch Naked Inside, a deal that will see media specialists working at the heart of the creative and strategic process. Bartle Bogle Hegarty, too, is seeking a media heavyweight to improve its communications planning.

So why now? Are creative agencies gripped by genuine enthusiasm and a desire to change or by the fear of losing power and revenue as clients demand broader thinking from agencies?

John Harlow, a partner at Naked, says: "I think creative agencies are responding to client demand and acknowledging that the world is bigger than pure advertising. In order to keep the top seat at the strategic table, they need to be able to express their ideas across the board."

This is certainly true in the case of Publicis. It hired Morris to encourage a wider range of thinking across the group and to help its different divisions (advertising, direct marketing, digital and publishing) work more effectively together. Morris says: "My task at Publicis is to help in its move to think more broadly about communication. From our point of view, this is not an option - we have to think this way. Consumers draw their views on brands from a myriad of touch-points. If agencies limit their thinking to just one, they will end up becoming involved in less and less of the marketing process."

The task facing Morris was, and is, a tough one. It involved both cultural and structural change. "Such a change is not easy and it is so much more than just a new script. It requires real change in the structure of the company, both financial and cultural. Our first move was to move all units into a single profit and loss line - only then could old territorial boundaries be changed and new work processes created. To do it properly takes time and complete commitment."

Publicis is now more flexible in the way it works with clients. For many, it still just creates TV ads, but it is now better equipped to advise clients on a wider variety of communications channels. Teams from across the agency with different skillsets will now sit down with clients at the start of the process to look at all the points at which their brands make contact with consumers, from above the line right down to call-centres.

But Morris concedes that some clients don't want this type of service from Publicis. "This is not a one-stop shop. The industry tried that and it didn't work. You cannot enter this type of approach with the aim of making a short-term cross-sell. The thinking needs to take priority and needs to remain broad. If it's good and you earn the client's trust, more often than not your involvement in the execution of other channels follows."

While Morris has had a big challenge in changing both culture and structure at Publicis, MCBD and Soul faced different issues. They both started from scratch, with media thinking as a central part of their propositions.

Brown, who before his role as a director at Starcom also worked at BMP DDB and BBH, says he and his fellow founders identified a genuine need for its service from clients: "When we set up Soul, we felt there was a huge vacuum in the area of clients receiving good creative ideas backed by good media ideas. It had become increasingly unlikely that media people, creative people and strategic people would sit around and have a good, healthy discussion about a brand."

Soul works in the same way for each client. Brown works in a team with the planner Jo Pearce at the start of each process with advertisers, often resulting in a detailed media strategy that underpins the creative, as in the Uniqlo case study shown here.

Currently, Brown and Pearce are the only team at Soul that works in this way but the agency plans to expand its team of media specialists as it hires more staff.

But does Brown think it was easier for Soul to create such a manner of working? Surely the larger, established agencies would find it difficult to implement? "It's not impossible for anybody to do these things. But when we walk into work we're set up for creative and media people to work together. We started with a clean sheet of paper, so it was a hell of a lot easier than having to engineer this from scratch," he says.

MCBD appointed Pearson as its media director because it felt media strategy should be an essential part of its offering. Pearson was previously at Starcom as the group head in charge of the NatWest, Starbucks and Dunhill accounts. Jeremy Miles, MCBD's chairman, says: "He has an extensive knowledge over many years of working on through-the-line media planning. He's got an excellent strategic brain, as well as being able to work at the grass-roots level."

But why bring media planning into the offering? "Full service, as it used to be known, is an outdated concept. The benefits of taking media buying out are well documented. But the decade when media planning was taken out of ad agencies has led to a much more equal relationship between the media strategists and creatives," Miles says.

"Gone are the days where creative directors can say: 'It's a 60-second, love, so do it.' Nowadays, provided you can find talented people on both sides who can have a healthy debate, the relationship is equal - not always easy, but much more proactive. It was for these reasons that we brought media planning in-house, counter to industry trends, in order to offer a through-the-line service which optimises creativity and maximises effectiveness."

Pearson and his team tend to have input into every piece of client activity, even if this is just an informal chat with a creative in the agency to bounce ideas around. More formally, the agency also handles the media planning accounts for the Radio Times and Thorntons.

Miles says that offering this service is not intended to rile media agencies but to "enhance our creativity and responsiveness to clients' needs".

But surely there must be some tension? Paul Phillips, the director of advertising and media services at the AAR, says: "It's fine when a (creative) agency's media planner walks in and gives some wonderful insight and generally the client assumes they don't have to pay for it. So who pays for the advice is an issue but also sitting in the meeting are the boys from the media agency who have a contract to do that."

Phillips says that this type of activity from creative agencies works best at the new-business stage, when the creative agencies can pitch their media planning ideas and shut the media agencies out. He sees problems in arrangements for payment of this kind of service and also within holding companies where creative agencies are taking business from their media sisters. However, he predicts more creative agencies will look at bringing media and communications planning in-house: "The altruistic reason is that it can be an important service for a client because the separation of media and creative has left a gap and bringing media planning in-house can create more rounded, thought-through delivery. The less altruistic reason is that the media community has recognised this service has a premium and it can charge more for planning than buying. The creative agencies now want a bit of this action."

Some see a danger in this if creative agencies do not genuinely change their outlook and culture but opt instead for a "media man in the corner".

Harlow concludes: "This is a challenging role but the great danger is that some ad agencies do it and just pay lip-service, like many did with digital. It has to run deeper than just hiring a good media planner."

Uniqlo and Soul

Soul's work for Uniqlo demonstrates its belief in fusing a strong brand idea, a strong creative idea and a strong media idea.

The Japanese clothing retailer's launch into the UK offered the agency the chance to communicate a brand from scratch. Its central creative idea was to communicate the notion of "style from within". Its idea for the brand was to "challenge the parallels of fashion".

After discussion, this led to the notion that the agency should create serene, non-traditional retail advertising, resulting in a series of television ads.

However, the agency's media idea was to challenge this approach by behaving more in the manner of a retailer such as Dixons or Currys than a fashion retailer, using the style press. Its media strategy was to focus on ITV1 and national press rather than fashion magazines. It also took a series of consecutive pages in the London Evening Standard to challenge readers' ideas of what constitutes fashion.

Of the discussions that helped build the campaign, Kevin Brown says: "Those simple debates often get lost in big creative and media agencies."

Aristoc and Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy

The hosiery manufacturer faced the challenge of being in a declining sector and having a relatively small budget of £500,000. It had traditionally used women's magazines to showcase the brand for consumers but it also faced the task of building sales force morale.

Hal Pearson advised Aristoc to focus its spend on cinema to communicate with opinion-forming consumers but also build belief within the trade.

The creative directors took their cue from this strategy, developing a "cinematic" feel to the campaign.

Working with Pearl & Dean, the agency created a package where the ads ran in "chick flick" movies and cinema-goers received a packet of Aristoc Slimline System tights on their seats. Special preview nights were also organised for key customers and the sales force.

The activity had the effect of increasing year-on-year sales of the Slimline System by 160 per cent. It was also beneficial for the brand, with consumers perceiving Aristoc as being younger and more fashionable.

Asda and Publicis

Publicis' recent work for Asda took the supermarket's central values of being run by mums for mums as its starting point. The agency reviewed every point at which the brand connected with customers and staff, both in- and out-of-store.

Its brief was to ensure that every route of reaching customers reflected Asda's qualities of being friendly value champions. Publicis looked at brand advertising, PR, door drops and everything in-store (carrier bags, till receipts and in-store radio) to ensure they matched the initial proposition.

Derek Morris says that each of these ways of reaching customers "was being run to its own agenda, not to a single concept".

Publicis made sure the strategy was in place and implemented much of the work itself. It created the "slice of life" TV ads and retail offers in press ads, produces Asda's customer magazine and has conducted work on the tone of Asda FM. It has provided input and briefings into the in-store and PR work carried out by other agencies, aiming to provide consistent communication across the whole business.

If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum here.