Media Perspective: Media agencies are still failing to give DM strategy its due

It's a strange feeling knowing when you're going to die. According to the Death Test, courtesy of, I'll be buying the farm in November 2054, aged 81. Apparently, cancer is most likely to get me, but I have a 2 per cent chance of dying from a fatal wound.

Some days it seems like 2054 can't come soon enough. Like when putting together the "strategy of the week" section for Campaign. The end result might be worth it, but getting agencies to part with their finest work is on a par with extracting a WMD from Iraq.

But these frustrations aside, the major thing you notice with most media plans and strategies is the lack of a direct marketing element. Fair enough, you might argue, the direct mail is usually planned and bought by specialist direct agencies. But surely the media agency should at least be aware that it exists?

On one of the larger campaigns featured in the section, it seemed there just had to be a direct element, even if the media planners weren't involved.

A quick call to the media planner and a firm no, there's no direct. A quick call to the DM agency and it turns out there's a significant direct campaign, closely linked to the brand campaign and timed to work on the back of it. This pathetic lack of communications could hamper a whole campaign. Especially when a bunch of agencies and a client have proudly, and publicly, declared how closely they'll be co-ordinated as a team.

This malaise seems to me to be linked to a general lack of understanding of direct mail within media agencies. Strong direct departments do not necessarily work on every campaign, yet they generally lead to some sort of knowledge of direct marketing across an agency. For years, mainstream media agencies have paid little more than lip service to the importance of direct. Dominic Mills, a previous incumbent of this column, wrote in February 2002: "Here we have a medium with a share of 13 per cent ... and it's almost as if the media buyers are pretending it doesn't exist."

Little has changed. The two media agencies (barring specialists such as WWAV Rapp Collins Media and All Response Media) taking direct seriously in 2002, Carat and MediaCom, are still the pre-eminent two in direct planning and buying. Add to that the honourable exceptions of ZenithOptimedia's Zed Media and PHD Confidential, whose launch was the hook for the Campaign piece in 2002 and a division that recently helped PHD to win the AA business, and that's about it.

Others are struggling. Forget the media man in the corner; in most media agencies it's the direct man in the corner. Even on a self-interested, greedy level, this seems strange given the increasing number of pitches requiring direct skills.