MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE - To reach their goal media shops must bring in new talent

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

media specialists.

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.