Recent history is littered with examples of ad agencies bringing media, or communications planning as it tends to be known, under their wing. Approaches have certainly differed. We've seen the joint venture (CHI & Partners' Naked Inside business with Naked Communications is a prominent example), the hiring of a media specialist to work inside an agency (Enyi Nwosu at TBWA\Connections) and the launch of a whole standalone department (Bartle Bogle Hegarty's engagement planning unit, led by Kevin Brown, is one such development).
Now Lowe London has moved to bring communications planning under its roof. In the past, Lowe, as a network, has been linked with grand ambitions in this area. At one stage, it was reported to be in acquisition talks with Naked Communications, but these came to nothing.
Lowe London has now opted for a more modest, but, it hopes, effective solution, by hiring Mark Sherwood, the executive planning director of the PHD-owned agency Rocket, as its first head of communications planning. Sherwood clearly impressed Lowe's management team, with its chief executive, Amanda Walsh, describing him as "one of the most creative media planners in the UK".
Sherwood's role at Lowe will be two-fold. First, he will work as a planner on a piece of Lowe client business (the agency is not saying which client just yet), and second, he will work with Lowe's nine-strong planning department on infusing communications planning into their work. As Rebecca Morgan, the chief strategy officer at Lowe, puts it, Sherwood's role will be to "turbo charge" its planning approach with his media and brand planning experience.
He joins Lowe after an eventful four-year stint at Rocket. Having worked at ad agencies including Griffin Bacal and then as an associate director of MediaCom, Sherwood joined as the agency's strategy director in 2003, replacing Mark Holden, who moved to PHD.
During his time at Rocket, the agency, which specialises in a more creative approach to media planning, met with a great measure of success (bringing in new clients such as Mini, Co-op and GCap) and evolving its offering significantly. The launch of Lunar, an in-house creative agency staffed by creatives from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, was a reversal of the usual trend of media moving into ad agencies, and saw Lunar (which was created to become part of Rocket) work on clients including BT.
Morgan was, at the time, the head of marketing communications at BT, and was impressed with both Sherwood and the Rocket/Lunar approach. She says: "I was interested in Mark (for the new role at Lowe) because he has great strategic credentials. He was involved in the set-up of Lunar, which was a fantastic idea, and bringing creative and media together made perfect sense. He's got two things the average media person might not have: an understanding of creativity and the creative process, but he also really gets brands."
This is important for Morgan, as she explains that Lowe wants to "hybridise" all of its planners to understand both brand and communications planning. This is clearly something Sherwood buys into. He says: "It's a big challenge. I've got a love of taking a look at things differently in a new environment. It's about trying to take two disciplines and make them one - a hybrid of communications and brand planning. Rocket did a lot of brand planning, so I have that experience."
Morgan says Sherwood will be helped by the relatively small size of Lowe's planning team. He and Carl Ratcliff, the recently hired planning director and the former head of brand strategy and development at Emap, will develop channel planning tools to help planners, but the emphasis will be on helping them to embrace a new way of thinking alongside their brand planning skills.
Sherwood and Morgan also argue that he will fit in naturally because many of its clients (Unilever and John Lewis are mentioned) want communications planning insight as part of the service. The news that Lowe's client Stella Artois is investing increasingly in online channels also highlights the changing requirements of brands when dealing with ad agencies.
It's clear that those who know Sherwood (sometimes referred to as "pocket Rocket" because of his diminutive stature) rate him highly as a media planner and brand strategist. He also has experience of changing an agency (in addition to Lunar, Rocket also went through the upheaval of merging with its sister agency PHD Compass). However, his detractors argue that his weakness might lie with a lack of closeness to some of Rocket's senior clients. Not true, Sherwood says: "I like working with clients, that's partly why we won so many accounts at Rocket."
Vital to the Lowe approach is that Sherwood will work as part of the core planning team as it attempts to live up to the agency's "high-value ideas" approach. Morgan says she doesn't subscribe to the model that sees communications planning run as a separate department: "During my time as a client, I thought that agency desires to compartmentalise disciplines as separate revenue streams were a little unrealistic."
This integrationist approach should aid Sherwood as he bids to help Lowe's planners evolve, and he doesn't seem daunted by the move: "It's a natural progression; I see it as just moving to something on a bigger scale."
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