Do you remember those lessons at school where, about a month before the
exams, the teacher would give you his or her special hints for passing?
This was the sign for everybody to pay attention and, for once, take
So it was last week at the Campaign and Marketing conference on media
myths. The speaker was John Blakemore, the UK advertising director for
SmithKline Beecham and a member of the smallest club in the world -
those who really understand how TV trading works. As Blakey got going,
the room became hushed. But five minutes into his speech, there was one
clear sound from the audience: that of furious scribbling as everybody -
clients, agency folk, media buyers - rushed to write down his pearls of
wisdom. For most of them, me included, it was like being in a
Of course it was, in one sense, pure luck that the conference coincided
with a momentous week for ITV. A few days earlier, Carlton had snatched
Westcountry from under United’s nose, effectively firing the starting
gun in the next round of ITV consolidation. Apart from that, in last
week’s issue of Campaign there was news of CIA’s settlement with Laser
and, more significantly, a hint from Laser that it might move to client-
by-client trading. Last, but by no means least, TSMS announced in
Campaign that it was formally to introduce volume discounts based, not
on share of spend within ITV, but of total TV.
Together, all this says that the game has changed and will continue to
change faster than most of us can probably guess. Believe me, if it’s
going to be hard for agencies and media buyers to keep up with (and on
top of) this new world, it’s going to be doubly hard for clients.
Talking informally to some clients at the conference, I was amazed at
how few had a solid grasp of the way media as a whole is going, let
Of course, some clients will say that they have more important things to
worry about and that is what they have agencies for anyway. ‘Why keep a
dog and bark yourself?’ they will say. Maybe. But it is precisely
because they have so many other things to do that clients have to be
secure in their understanding of how their media money is spent. Can you
imagine the marketing director of a company saying to his board: ‘Er, I
was so busy hiring a PR agency, arranging a trade promotion and
commissioning point-of-sale material, I didn’t notice we owed pounds
150,000 to LWT’? And the problem is compounded by the hire-and-fire
approach taken by clients, whereby marketing directors just have time to
get their feet under the table before they’re off.
Should clients hire their own version of Blakey?
Yes, if they’re big enough. If they’re not, then somebody at the top has
to get committed to the media process. Without that, they might as well
start burning the fivers now.