Cynics argue that the full-service agency offer is being reborn simply out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia. Others believe some agencies are embracing them because in an increasingly homogenised industry, any differentiation is worth seizing upon, and quickly.
But what started out as an exception seems to be becoming the rule. At the beginning of April, PHD became the latest to follow the trend by announcing that its media planners would work, for at least some of the time, within Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. With an entire department due to shift its focus under the new scheme, this potentially answers the critics who claim that it is just tokenism.
Even so, this relatively new (or reinvented) phenomenon has got the cynics' hackles rising. Of course, anything that alters the status quo is likely to arouse suspicion and scepticism, not least from the media agencies who perceive a threat to their own USP if creative agencies are able to reclaim some media credentials. Witness, for example, the decision by Grey Worldwide London to pull out of a joint venture with Naked - called Naked Ambition - after Grey's sister media agency, MediaCom, raised objections.
But for all the posturing and criticism, what does this new breed of in-house media strategist really do? And what difference does it all make to the end creative product? Has anything really changed as a result of their arrival, or do they simply sit alone in a corner, a mere totem to the notion of neutrality?
Campaign asked four media experts within creative agencies to provide a diary of a typical day, who they meet and what exactly they do. Most crucially, we wanted to find out at what stage they are getting involved in the creative process. What really happens when media meets creative at the heart of a traditional agency?
ENYI NWOSU - Director, TBWA\Communications
8.30am Straight into the TBWA\London bar for coffee and croissants. My day doesn't begin without this fix.
I am based on the same floor as the senior management of the agency. That's important for three reasons: first, it sounds pretty good; second, easy access and support from the individuals who run the ad agency, and in addition being permanently based within the creative department could have drawn some comments about media being brought in to sell ads.
I spend approximately 75 per cent of my time working with the client-facing guys - account planning and account management - and 10 per cent directly working on creative amplification, whether a specific client brief or just a chat on "how do you think we can leverage this".
The rest of my time is made up of client assignments with Manning Gottlieb OMD. Today is quite typical.
9.00am We have a presentation to one of TBWA's biggest clients, who has also recently appointed TBWA\Connections on a pan-European assignment.
The key objective for the client is to deliver more effective and innovative communication plans in 2005. The client believes, as we do, that it will receive bigger and better ideas if creative and media work together.
Neil Dawson (the executive planning director), Rob Alexander (the planning partner) and I are presenting the communication strategy. The meeting goes well and it is clear from the response of the clients that they feel as if the new approach has delivered both new insights and bigger ideas - reassuring, given the immense amount of work from the account team and everyone else involved in making this happen.
11.30am I have a meeting with the account team and planners on another piece of business. Ben Cyzer, Jonathan Bottomley, Dan Joseph and I are discussing an interesting client brief: "How can I turn my brand into an entertainment phenomenon?"
Not a bad project to get your teeth into and another good example of why it is important creative and media are working together again. An entertainment phenomenon positioning should produce big ideas, whether advertising or other activities that create a buzz.
1.00pm Time for lunch. I am having lunch with Matt Shepherd-Smith (the chief operating officer) and Neil Hourston (the planning director). We have been tasked with leading a team within the agency to find ways of further enhancing our reputation and agency positioning of "big and disruptive".
Having this conversation over lunch was the only way to get these very important industry players on board.
Typically, lunch would be with a client or a media owner.
4.00pm I am off to see a client with Phil Nunn, the head of direct/digital at MG OMD, and Lauren Salisbury, an MG OMD account director. Phil hasn't yet tired of the poacher-turned-gamekeeper jokes, but he's easily amused.
On this particular assignment, the creative work is produced internationally by an agency outside of the group. The client relies upon us to advise on brand positioning in the UK. Our launch plan includes sponsoring and creating events, signing personalities and developing strategic partnerships, as well as innovative use of magazines. We are here to be debriefed on initial results, which are positive.
That's it today. Tomorrow is even more of a challenge - the annual account planning department day out at Sandown races.
BEN WOOD - Media director, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy
8.00am I'm in early. It's good to catch up with Henry Rowe (the second half of the communications strategy team) before the working day begins.
Henry and I work directly with the planning, account management and creative teams, within both Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy and Elvis (our through-the-line arm), and the best ideas emerge from a regular scrimmage of all involved on a brief. It also puts communications thinking at the centre of the process, which is crucial to the way we work.
9.30am Status meeting with the Thorntons team, joined by the buying agency. Together we've been pulling together communications plans and today we're running through the details. We're fortunate to enjoy positive, non-territorial relationships with the media buying agencies with whom we work. It couldn't function any other way.
11.00am We earmark a couple of hours a day for media owner meetings. It's claimed that media folk within creative agencies risk annexing themselves from the cut and thrust of the media markets. This couldn't be any further from the truth and I enjoy better working relationships today with media owners than I ever did in a big media agency. The reality is that being annexed, to an extent, from the buying process allows more collaborative and creative relationships to develop.
1.00pm Lunch with The Guardian. We've worked with the innovations team now on a number of projects and are consistently impressed with the quality of ideas. We're discussing supplement ideas for an ICT client and running through some work for BBC Magazines.
2.30pm Session with the creative teams on Kwik Save - between us, we're looking at ways of generating more cut-through and stand-out in the media executions we employ.
It's the current vogue in the market to try to rebuild the relationship between creative and media, but the reintegration of media into the creative agency is more than just sticking a media desk among the art directors. Working collaboratively and effectively with creative teams is as much about an agency's mindset as its structure.
4.00pm Meeting with the account planning team to discuss positioning and targeting for a new client. The insight account planners lend to the communications strategies we develop is fantastic and their input always forms an integral part of what we do.
5.00pm Finally, check e-mails and man the phones, before the cycle home.
MARK HOLDEN - Executive planning director, PHD
8.30am Arrive at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's offices and spend the first 30 minutes logging my laptop into AMV and PHD's network, checking e-mails and planning my work for the day ahead.
9.00am I am in an internal meeting about a new piece of business. It is a final catch-up before the first chemistry meeting with the client this afternoon at 3pm.
At this point, we are not producing any creative work. We are presenting our thoughts on the current brand, identifying audiences that offer the greatest potential for revenue growth and, of course, recommending a strategy for effective influence. Although we have all agreed the strategy and approach together, we have all been responsible for writing different sections.
10.30am I have a meeting with a creative team that is working on a new brief. I am coming in at the optimum moment - the point after the core creative idea has been established but before any executions of the idea have been worked up.
The team brief me on the core idea and we start to explore thoughts on how the idea could be expressed. Out of the discussion, an interesting thought emerges - a thought that could underpin all of the communications.
From this, ideas start to flow - ideas that take the brand out of standard marketing communications into new areas such as tactical new-product development and third-party partnerships. I now need support to add to, refine and action these ideas. I call PHD and arrange a session with key individuals from the main company and the different PHD Group companies.
1.30pm After a voicemail, callback and e-mail frenzy, I am off for lunch with George Bryant, the planning director at AMV. Venue: the bagel shop across the road. We discuss another client that he is working on - I offer up some thoughts on how the idea could work in different media. We also talk about the weather.
3.00pm We start the chemistry meeting. The collaborative approach really works as the focus of our energies has moved on - from discussing how to communicate with the audience, we instead are focusing on how best to truly influence the audience.
4.30pm I have to nip back to PHD for an Ideas Exchange - a download of the latest opportunities that are available. Specialists from different fields share new sponsorship opportunities to new interactive techniques that have become available over the past few weeks.
7.00pm I disconnect the Citrix link and remember there is another side to my life.
KEVIN BROWN - Strategic partner, Soul
8.30am (Monday) Soul's four partners, Bruce (Crouch), Andy (Bird), Duncan (Bird) and myself, run through the status on all our accounts, the progress and issues from last week and the challenges for the week ahead.
It is more of a debate on each brand, really, than a status meeting - and the discussion jumps from creative briefs we're working on to the progress on ideas in development. We equally debate how these ideas will come to life in the media environment (how we bring brand and product executions to life in print for one client, how we can make TV affordable and workable for another).
10.30am A straight dash from this meeting across Regent Street to the offices of the media agency BLM Media for a client meeting with Tryton Foods and Heinz, who we jointly work with.
We meet to discuss the brand brief and as we'll be writing a creative brief shortly, we have to discuss what are the media parameters and opportunities for this campaign.
After much debate, a vision emerges for how we might focus on TV within specific programme strands that helps put some context to who and where our advertising will be consumed.
1.00pm Today it's lunch with Graham Duff from ITV and Duncan and I go to meet him at Bam-Bou. He's an inspiration and a great supporter of Soul. He gets what we do because he has worked in a creative agency and on both sides of the media fence.
3.00pm Back to Soul for a discussion with Bruce on some early creative ideas for a new print campaign. We've got a meeting to present concepts tomorrow. An integral part of the idea is working with a media owner to create an integrated marketing solution. We call this approach Soulspace.
It is managed by Mark Swift at Soul, working with Walker Media in this instance, so after this debate we're off to Walker Media to share our strategic and creative thinking with Phil Georgiadis ahead of the client meeting.
6.30pm A well-deserved pint (or two) of Guinness before it's off home.