Media Perspective: It's in structure, not creativity, where UK media must adapt

Instead of going to Cannes or Glastonbury, I spent the wet weekend completing several levels on the platform classic Mario vs Donkey Kong on the GameBoy Advance.

At the end of each level, Mario, the diminutive Italian plumber, must throw trashcans at a gorilla until he runs away. All good fun you'd imagine, yet if video games really do make people do stupid things, as imagined in the current row over the banning of the "sick" console game Manhunt 2, then just keep me away from the new London Zoo gorilla enclosure.

A short man not afraid, in real life, of chucking figurative trashcans at gorillas is Graham Bednash, the founding partner at Michaelides & Bednash. Last week in Cannes, he lashed out at the whole UK media agency world with the words: "There was a real lack of surprise and innovation in the communications we looked at."

Bednash may have a point, and it's always good to hear from a judge who cares so passionately. However, in this case, his criticism may have been misdirected. Some UK media agencies don't even bother entering Cannes because of the perceived bias towards one-off, stunt activity that might impress an international judging panel, but doesn't necessarily have the biggest impact in the real world.

UK media doesn't lack the big idea, it's just papered away within a cocoon of effectiveness, quality and sound delivery. That seems a thing to celebrate to me. If you want evidence, look at Mediaedge:cia's Campaign Grand Prix award winner for Xerox last year. This was a smart idea for a big brand and it worked.

Obviously, the UK can't become complacent, but general standards of work still seem high to me. While stopping short of saying "we invented media planning", most agencies say that they can see the influence UK planning skills have had in markets as varied as, say, the US and Singapore.

Bednash may have had a point if he'd referred to the structural deficiencies, rather than the general output, of UK media agencies. Our feature (page 20) shows even clever people have no real idea how the agency model will evolve over the coming years. The senior industry figures involved reach no real conclusion, which is perhaps a worry for those working at media agencies. Those participating agree media agencies need to reinvent themselves and there emerges a certain confidence that they are better placed to adapt to the future than other communications businesses. That said, the insight that digital strategy and data-driven solutions might play a key role going forward isn't that surprising.

It will be fascinating to see if, in, say, five years' time, media agencies have changed beyond having "more digital" or "more data". It's a tough challenge and there's not much sign of it being met right now.

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