MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: It's time for media agencies to stand out from the crowd

It's the start of a new year and I suppose I should be peppering this column with keen insights and knowing percepts predicting what 2001 has in store.

It's the start of a new year and I suppose I should be peppering this column with keen insights and knowing percepts predicting what 2001 has in store.

I could forecast that there'll be more dotcom bereavements, that UK media agencies will continue to lose sovereignty to the Americans, that BBJ's Trista Grant will get a nice pay rise (see page 30-31).

But I won't. So scrub the usual first-column-of-the-year crystal-ball bollocks and let's get down to a question for which I have absolutely no answer (and that's your fault, not mine): which media agency is this year really going to stand out from the increasingly characterless mass?

It's a question spotlighted by our Media Agency of the Year discussion at the end of last year, and it's a question that keeps nagging. BBJ is a worthy winner of the title for 2000, but it was a difficult decision - not because of the plethora of outstanding agencies, but because there's so little to choose between most of them.

Ten or even five years ago, big or clever used to be nifty positionings (with most agencies not big enough and still learning how to spell strategy).

Now the product offerings of the top 20 media companies are so very similar that in a blindfold test it would be almost impossible to tell them apart.

Everyone claims to have good buying credentials (most probably do), and every agency will, of course, claim smart thinking and bespoke tools.

But the mine's-as-big-as-yours culture that now characterises much of the media agency market leaves every agency the poorer. The real differences, where there are any, may lie in delivery, but from the tangible outside agencies seem increasingly alike. No wonder cost has still got the industry by the balls - it's the one blunt tool clients can use to differentiate agencies.

So one convention I won't eschew in this first column of 2001 is to level a challenge for media agencies for the year ahead: be braver. Don't try to be all things to all clients, find some dynamism and take some risk; create a positioning and USP that goes beyond the personality of the agency chief executive; turn down business if the terms are poor or if price is more important than quality (ranking agencies by income is only around the corner and billings are increasingly irrelevant). Be special.

At a time when there is so much to play for within the media industry, when media's influence is growing so fast, it's shameful that the companies that should be leading the charge are so lacklustre. But the opportunity is there for some real redefinition and distinction. In 12 months' time, when Campaign is deciding its media agency of the year 2001, it would be heartening to have more strong identifiable contenders whose claims to the accolade go beyond their new-business record.



Topics