Jeremy Lee is associate editor of Campaign
Jeremy Lee is associate editor of Campaign
A view from Jeremy Lee

Media Perspective: Is it back to the 'old school' as agencies look for standout?

It's paradoxical that media agencies, which have built their business on the successful nurturing of their clients' brands through effective communications planning, seem singularly incapable of understanding, let alone managing, their own brands.

So instead of a coherent brand strategy or any recognisable brand architecture to achieve even the slightest point of differentiation, the media industry is now awash with agencies that have been forcibly merged out of financial or political expediency by their parent companies.

As if to pretend that this was all part of a pre-determined "grand plan" or that it was for the benefit of their clients' businesses a bland mission statement, a pointless and meaningless agency positioning is applied as some sort of sticking plaster to cover the wound.

But then advertisers are rarely that stupid and it's little wonder, that with nothing much that is apparently meaningful to distinguish one media agency from another, they usually choose on price alone.

This is a constant refrain from media agencies - it's also unfair on them. Just as there are "good" and "bad" creative agencies, so it is in media; it's just that the media agencies have largely been unable to distinguish themselves from the morass surrounding them.

They have failed to grasp that with just four holding companies controlling the bulk of the UK market, achieving some degree of standout - however small - might give them some competitive edge (as well as allow them to charge a premium for the services they offer beyond media buying).

So what to make of the decision by Publicis Groupe - or more particularly ZenithOptimedia's UK chief executive, Gerry Boyle - to separate its two component agencies, which merged in 2001, so that they will now, possibly, operate as two brands?

As the two new principals of Zenith Media and Optimedia, Stephen Farquhar and Mark Howley, hint at on page 19, the separation - which is most definitely not a divorce - could lead to two distinct cultures for each agency. With a bit of luck, this might mean that a particular type of client might chose one over the other.

It's a nice thought and is clearly as dependent on Howley and Farquhar creating this culture. It could also be one happy consequence of the rash of mergers as holding companies sought to bulk up their negotiation position.

So what next? With WPP deciding to decouple MEC into its two component parts, will we see The Media Edge, with its historic quirky planning credentials, re-established and CIA, with some of its legacy of quirky financial practices? And what about Aegis? Will it resurrect The Media Department out of Carat?

Probably not. But anything that shakes up the media agencies from their current slumber can't be a bad thing.

Jeremy Lee is associate editor of Campaign