MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Pooling TV trading will strip naked the real media agency

It's been more than two years since Campaign ran the story that

Universal McCann, Initiative Media and the then Western Media were

plotting to pool their trading might into a centralised negotiations

unit.



When our story first ran (having being 'leaked' by one of the most

senior parties involved in the discussions), the effluence hit the air

conditioning and internal politics put a sharp brake on what would even

back then have made very real sense.



Now the Interpublic media agencies are finally putting their money where

their negotiating muscle is, and with the Universal/Initiative buying

operation now becoming a reality, the proverbial rocket has been well

greased and shoved up the UK media industry's posterior.



In truth, the touchpaper was lit last year when Carat and BBJ confirmed

they were combining their trading might; except that everyone had

suspected that the trading lines between the sister companies were

pretty invisible in the first place, so the news had less impact than it

might.



What the Universal/Initiative tie-up does, however, is pool the muscle

of two top-ten players into a more powerful trading partnership, and

that's sure to get certain rivals sweating.



Omnicom's OMD and New PHD have toyed with the idea (and OMD already has

a trading partnership with Manning Gottlieb Media), Starcom Motive and

MediaVest have been looking at it since the Bcom3 deal, and Zenith and

Optimedia are surely considering their options.



But to what end? Well, most of the benefits are obvious. Maintaining a

TV buying department is an enormous overhead, from the systems and

research costs to manpower and floor space. Why have two cost centres

when one could do the job more efficiently and effectively? And with

media owners such as ITV consolidating, why not fight size with

size?



Some, though, would argue that trading monoliths simply exacerbate the

drive of buying toward a pure commodity process, manned by computer

operators stripped of the knowledge required to make a crucial creative

and strategic difference in the buying arena. I agree to an extent, but

great planners with a direct line into the buying operation will ensure

the job gets done.



And if anything, creating a buying silo can free up all the strategic,

creative processes that media agencies bang on about. All the recent

talk about advising clients across a range of communications solutions

has always rung a little hollow when you consider the costs involved in

maintaining a TV department; how independent can you be when your bottom

line includes the need to make a real return on your investment in a TV

operation?



Interestingly, what these new trading divisions will also do is strip

naked the rest of the agency's offering and reveal the real calibre of

what remains.



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