Media Perspective: Agencies making buying better for clients and staff too

Noel Coward once wrote: "Wit and charm are not enough. The race is to the swift and you've got to work like mad in this world if you want to get anything."

Staff at media agencies may recognise the wisdom in the second line of this quote and are usually better built for hard graft than Coward, whose work ethic resulted in frequent bouts of ill health, but there's no doubt many are feeling the pressure right now.

Cutbacks in headcount and constant demand from clients to deliver savings have led increasing numbers at agencies to question whether their work is challenging and rewarding enough.

Yet there are welcome signs that media agencies could emerge out of this turmoil as infinitely more interesting places to work. In recent months, we've seen the top two agencies by billings in the UK, MediaCom and OMD UK, restructure their buying operations to make them more "integrated". To have buyers working not only in one media channel, such as TV or press, but across the board and incorporating "digital" media.

The timing might be unfortunate in this, possibly leading staff to question the motivations of management, but these changes are generally for the good, I think, and it's testament to the vision and tenacity of some agencies that they are doing the right thing despite such a difficult climate around them.

OMD's stated aim in all this, for instance, is to "make buying better" and this could be true for agency staff as well as for clients. Asking buyers to work across media based around client groups has the potential not only to bring buyers closer to clients, to steal MediaCom's onetime strapline, but also to planners within an agency. This should extend the "shelf life" of a buying job, making it potentially challenging over a longer period. Which is vital in business, as well as human, terms given that the majority of clients are looking for better buying from a crowded agency landscape.

Sadly, it seems that some agencies are well ahead of media owner structures, with many still operating in silos that make promises of cross-media delivery seem pathetic. Dave King and his team at Telegraph Media Group are the large media sales operation that get name-checked in the most positive terms by agencies. Perhaps this is because they built their own structure based on the needs of the market as well as themselves rather than using some management consultancy to do it all for them.

With the likes of Guardian Media Group announcing devastating losses last week, the pressure is on media owners to deliver structures that work. But in the meantime, hats off to the agencies and let's celebrate buying again because, at it's best, it can be an art.

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