The media agency is dead. Or at least it can seem that way if you
take a scan round the presentations being currently polished by the top
As Campaign's feature (page 24) this week underlines, more and more
media agencies are shaping their credentials out of anything but
traditional media planning and buying. Business may still move on the
basis of cost efficiencies - and even more so in the existing economic
climate - but you won't see much time devoted to buying performance in
your average media pitch these days.
OK, this is hardly a new trend. From PHD to Michaelides & Bednash and
Naked and all the copy-cat me-toos in between, smart media agencies have
long taken implementational media simply as their starting point. But
ever since the emergence of Zenith at the end of the 80s, the industry's
raison d'etre has implicitly been the executing of buying briefs with
fluff on top.
Eighteen months ago the fluff was the internet - you can't accuse this
business of not having its finger on the pulse of fashion ... even if
it's a dying beat by the time most agencies have located it and got it
on to PowerPoint. Now everyone's realised that there's no money in new
media and it's lost its sex appeal, the buzz has moved on.
Sitting through a dose of agency credentials over the past couple of
months, it's clear that agencies are on the hunt for the next new thing
and, not surprisingly, many have settled on the same new thing. These
days smart media agencies are crafting their credentials around a fairly
fundamental proposition - understanding their clients' business.
Brand strategy, brand planning or whatever fancy name you care to select
from the results of your brainstorming "our vision" session, is rapidly
becoming the thing to be seen sporting this season. And if agencies are
serious about getting a real grip on marketing issues from brand
conception to communication execution, then it should mean a fundamental
rewriting of the principles of the media agency. Which, in turn, should
mean a move to the high ground that media agencies have been lusting
after for years and failing to attain.
But while the thinking may be sound this time, so fundamental is the
ambition that it will need a lot more than a couple of smart soundbites
and a jazzy new presentation. I can't think of many management teams
from media agencies who actually sound convincing when making claims to
understand brand strategy.
So, crucially, these ambitions will require an injection of new talent
with experience in marketing and branding. That means real investment at
a time when most media agencies have their financial attention turned to
cost-cutting. But without serious investment, ambitions to get closer to
the brand will dissolve into the usual bluff used in new-business
pitches and nowhere else.