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
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
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
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
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