Media Perspective: It needn't be 'death on a stick' for those with strategic savvy

All the talk in Nottingham last weekend was of "cock-on-a-stick". The famous Goose Fair was in town and some locals can't resist this boiled sugar delicacy fashioned in the shape of a cockerel (it's been on sale at the fair for more than 100 years).

Well at least this base humour made for a change from the doom and gloom everywhere else. A feeling perhaps better summed up by the warning to Patrick Swayze's character in Point Break - "it's death on a stick out there mate" - than anything even Sir Martin Sorrell could conjure up.

Sorrell did, however, have some interesting words for media owners this week, praising those, such as Rupert Murdoch, who invest through a recession and improve their product. Sadly, though, it seems not every media owner can sustain investment at the more strategic end of their business. One sign of this is that the survival of the media-owner creative solutions unit could be under threat. There are indications that this process could be under way. While ITV looks to re-engineer its effort in this area, several newspapers have either ditched or stripped theirs back - partly, perhaps, because they've realised you can't often circumvent agencies with a strategic leader at a media owner.

Interestingly, though, serious media agencies are still committing resources to the senior strategic end of their businesses. Just look at this week's deal between Mindshare and Michaelides & Bednash. In addition, chief strategy officers have been appointed recently at both PHD and Mindshare, in the shape of the former ad agency planners Hugh Cameron and Kim Douglas. All this represents significant investment and big roles for new people within a media agency structure.

And shows that communications planning, or whatever it should be called, is now an accepted and necessary part of most agencies' approach, downturn or no downturn. Moreover, it also demonstrates that a leader in this area is absolutely necessary in driving the planning and strategic effort across all areas of the business, given how hard it seems for media agencies to make any money from standalone comms planning activity.

As a result, most of the strategists being hired by media agencies tend to have serious commercial and brand building experience. Old-school football managers, the type now personified by Joe Kinnear, used to have a phrase for fancy players who were ultimately a liability: they were rather offensively known as "fanny merchants". Most of their equivalents seem to have gone from media agencies, to be replaced by more pragmatic operators with a touch of imagination. The type of slightly skewed mind that invented the cock-on-a-stick, perhaps, but certainly not smacking of death on a stick for an agency.

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